Washington And Caesar by Christian Cameron

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
Washington And Caesar by Christian Cameron

Published: HarperCollins, London, United Kingdom, 2003.

Inspired by a little-known historical fact--that American slaves fought alongside the British in the Revolutionary War--this epic novel tells of a Mount Vernon slave who joins a Loyalist black regiment charged with defeating his former master on the battlefield.

The year is 1773. A new slave arrives at George Washington's Virginia estate and is given the name Caesar. But the war for independence will soon bring a turn of events neither master nor slave could have predicted. Within months they will be fighting on opposite sides: Washington as commander of the Continental Army, Caesar as a soldier in the legendary Loyalist corps made up of former slaves. In this captivating tour de force brimming with spectacular battle scenes and gripping historical detail, Caesar's perilous rise through the British ranks is deftly interwoven with the story of Washington's war years, leading to the day when they come face-to-face again--this time in uniform.

Christian Cameron

Aka Miles Cameron. Also publishes as Gordon Kent with his father Kenneth M. Cameron.

Christian Cameron was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1962. He grew up in Rockport, Massachusetts, Iowa City, Iowa,Christian Cameron and Rochester, New York, where he attended McQuaid Jesuit High School and later graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in history.

After the longest undergraduate degree on record (1980-87), he joined the United States Navy, where he served as an intelligence officer and as a backseater in S-3 Vikings in the First Gulf War, in Somalia, and elsewhere. After a dozen years of service, he became a full time writer in 2000.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
Author's Note

There can be few topics as difficult to confront for an American author as the mythology attached to George Washington. If there is a topic as difficult, it is surely those issues surrounding blacks and slavery in Colonial America. The combination of the two may provide an obstacle so far beyond my merits as an author as to be insurmountable.

Rather than seeking to excuse any failures, however, I would prefer to lull the reader with a few assurances. The events of this book are firmly rooted in history; for indeed, Washington’s life was so well chronicled (by his own hand, among many others) that it could not be otherwise. I have tried to portray the life of black slaves equally well, based on the handful of contemporary accounts of survivors of that pernicious system. And the events of the American Revolution occurred very much as chronicled here. The British did not inevitably fight in long straight lines, the Americans were not all “Patriots”, and the results of the struggle gave birth not just to the United States, but to Canada as well.

To those hard truths let me add one other. All society of the day was hierarchical; all men, black or white, had superiors and inferiors, and expected certain behavior of each, and all too many were content that it be so. They were different. I have tried to portray this throughout, but I shall leave you to judge the result.

Christian Cameron

Flag of British America (1707–1775)

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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Lt. Col. George Washington, Commissioned Officer in the British Virginia Regiment 1772

Slaves, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as menpleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God. And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for ye serve the Lord Jesus Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done, and there is no respect of persons.

Masters, give unto your slaves that which is just and equal; knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.


The tall man’s horse started at the distant shot, and he curbed it firmly, his attention on the woods around him. The sun, far overhead, pierced the canopy of trees with beams that played in shifting patterns on the autumn mold of the forest floor. For a moment his thoughts were in another forest, and the sound of other shots rang in his ears. His horse’s uneasiness communicated itself to the rest of the horses in the party.

“Hunter?” The other white man stood in his stirrups, as if a few inches of height would improve his view of the woods.

The tall man’s attention returned to the horses.

“Pompey, if you can’t control that animal I’ll have you walk.”

The black man so addressed wheeled his horse in a tight circle, murmuring all the while. His horse stopped fidgeting. The whole party grew still.

The second shot was farther away, the low thump of a musket.

“Crogan said we’d find a hunting camp.” The tall man ran his eyes over the rest of his party and touched his heels to his horse’s flanks, moving off at a trot. He already seemed focused on a distant goal, but the other men, black and white, cast their eyes nervously on the woods around them as they moved off on the narrow track. He slowed his horse to a comfortable walk and flowed in next to the other white man.

“No point in hurry, Doctor. We’ll need Nicholson to talk to them.”

The doctor seemed oppressed by the shots, but if the tall man noticed it, he gave it no heed.

“You were speaking of the price of tobacco, Colonel.”

“So I was, Doctor. Probably dwelling on it more than is healthy. But if the price continues to fall, we’ll all have to find another crop or see our sons debtors.”

“You’ve planted wheat, sir?” Dr. Craik was always a little diffident with Washington, who was not just his friend but frequently his patron.

“Indeed. I don’t grow tobacco except to cover expenses, but my tenants are old-fashioned men and need to see a thing done many times before they’ll consider it. I am confident that the soil will support it. And the price is better, whether I sell it in the Indies or grind it myself.”

“It could make a difference, sure enough.”

“I doubt it. The Virginia gentry are too used to easy money from tobacco to settle for a hard living on wheat.”

“Perhaps the price will rise in time, sir.”

“Oh, it may. But there are bills due now. I’ve had two bills refused in London, on very worthy men, at that. Gentlemen. They write bills to cover the cost of my smith and the like, you know. And those bills were refused. Very alarming.”

“Ho’se behin’ us, suh.”

“Thank you, Pompey. Good ears, as usual. That would be Nicholson,” he said. “And I sold Tom. Did I tell you that?”

The two black men looked at each other, just for a moment, but neither white man remarked it.

“You said he was a problem.”

“That he was. Ironical, if you can believe it. And he tried to run. I wouldn’t have it, so I sold him in the Indies. I asked Captain Gibson to get me another, good with animals. We’ll see what he brings.” The tall man stopped his horse and turned, one hand on its rump. A white man on a small horse was trotting up the trail, a rifle across his arm and the cape of his greatcoat turned up around his face against the chill.

“Are you sober, Nicholson?”

“Aye, Colonel. Sober as a judge.”

“Hear the shots?”

“Aye. That’d be the Shawnee that Crogan was on about.”

“Let’s go find them, then.”

Nicholson glared a moment, his narrow eyes stabbing from under heavy brows. Then he shook his head, touched his mount with his heels, and passed to the front.

Whatever his state of sobriety, Nicholson found the Shawnee camp so quickly that the conversation never seemed to rise again, beyond muttered comments about the beauty of the country. The party moved on at a trot until the hard-packed trail opened into a small clearing with several brush wigwams around its periphery. There was a strong smell of butchered meat and rot, overlaid with wood smoke. Two native women were scraping a hide. An old man sat smoking. None showed any sign of alarm when the party rode in. The tall man dismounted and threw his reins to one of his blacks.

“Ask them if we can stay the night.” He inclined his head civilly to the two women, who laughed and smiled.

Nicholson didn’t dismount. He nudged his horse forward, raised his right hand toward the old man, and spoke a long, musical sentence. The man drew on his pipe, blew a smoke ring, and nodded. Another shot sounded, quite close. The old man batted at a fly with a horsetail whisk and waved at the tall man, then spoke for a moment.

Nicholson turned to the tall man. “Says he knows you, Colonel Washington. Says you’re welcome here.”

“Excellent. Dr. Craik, this is our inn for the night. Please dismount. I’ll have Pompey and Jacka set up a tent.”

Pompey made coffee at one of the small native fires while Dr. Craik admired the skill of the women in cleaning the deer hides, a thoroughness his assistant back in Williamsburg would have done well to emulate.

“They learn as girls,” said Washington in a level tone.

“Use makes master, I suppose. Handsome wenches, too.”

“Oh, as to that…” He looked off into the middle distance and took a cup of coffee from Pompey without glancing at the man. “Beautiful country. Look at this clearing. Trees that big come out of the best soil.”

“And the savages have little idea what to do with it.”

“They grow corn well enough. Better than some of my tenants, if the truth were known.”

“I had no idea.”

“Not so savage, when it comes to farming. Of course, the women do it. Men mostly hunt and fight.” He sipped his coffee appreciatively. The old man was still smoking, looking at him from time to time but otherwise off in his own thoughts. Washington couldn’t place him, although he had a good memory for men he had known during the wars.

Between one thought and the next, the clearing began to fill with native men, all younger and most carrying guns. Others carried deer carcasses on poles or dragged them by the legs. Nicholson, his back against a tree and a bottle in his hand, called a greeting, and two men walked over to him. One took a drink from his bottle when it was offered, and they had a short exchange. The old man merely waved the flywhisk several times and the deer began to be sorted out.

“That fellow is a black!” Dr. Craik was pointing at a tall man in red wool leggings.

“Yes, Doctor. So he is. Probably started as a captive.” Washington nodded civilly at the warrior so indicated, who inclined his head a dignified fraction in return.

“We didn’t see blacks among the Shawnee during the wars.”

Washington’s thoughts were elsewhere, and he didn’t reply.

The deer were being butchered. Hearts and livers were set on bark trenchers, intestines set aside, and haunches separated even as they watched. The older women moved from carcass to carcass providing advice while the younger women did all the work and got coated in the blood and ordure. The whole process seemed to take no time at all, Dr. Craik had never seen the like and watched, fascinated. The other two white men seemed oblivious to the spectacle, the tall one standing with his coffee, the small one sitting by him with his rum. Some of the native men were sitting with Nicholson; the older men had gathered in a knot around the smoker, who was now passing his pipe. None showed any curiosity about the strangers.

Pompey walked up behind his master and took the empty horn cup.

“Dat be trouble, suh.” He inclined his head, the slightest gesture toward their tent.

One of the younger women had a white ruffled shirt on. It was clean and probably out of their equipment. Other women were laughing at her. They were also stealing glances at Dr. Craik. Craik remained oblivious for a moment, and then his thin face grew mottled with red.

“Doctor.” The tall man put a restraining hand on his shoulder.

“That woman has my shirt on!”

“Pay her no attention, Doctor.”

“I’ll have my shirt back.”

“You may take one of mine. We are in their country, and they are testing us. Think of it as the price of dinner. Resent the next theft, but not the first.”

Nicholson nodded curtly and called something across the camp. One of the older women roared. The others looked uneasy.

None of the men had stirred, but their attention seemed to focus on the whites for the first time. It made Dr. Craik feel uneasy. There was menace to it, an alien scrutiny from beyond his world of manner and custom.

“She looks a damn sight better in that shirt than you, Doctor.” Nicholson settled himself back against his tree and set to getting a spark on to some charcloth for his pipe.

Craik took a deep breath and made himself smile. “She does, the vixen. Even with shirts at six shillings apiece and not to be bought in this country.”

Nicholson was busy pulling at his pipe, clay turned black with use. He had laid his tiny scrap of lit char atop the bowl and was drawing the coal down into the tobacco. He was so fast with his flint and steel that Craik had missed the spark. When it was alight, he puffed for a moment, looking hard at Craik from under his unkempt eyebrows.

“Look at yon, Doctor. The men don’t show what they think, and nor should you. Angry or happy, keep your thoughts to yourself. Now, when they’re in drink, mind, then it’s the strongest to the fore and de’il take the hindmost.”

“He seems easy with them.”

“Oh, aye. Well, he doesna give much away, our colonel. And he stands tall. But mostly he’s a name to them. The chief there, he marked him soon as we rode in, an’ that counts for something.”

“It’s like another country.”

“It is another country, Doctor. This is the wilderness. He knows, and I know. Even Pompey knows. You were here in the war?”

“With the Provincials.”

“Well, now you’re with the savages. Best learn to please ’em.” The man laughed.

Craik wanted to resent his tone, but the advice was kindly given, even from a low Scots Borderer with rum on his breath and an old plum greatcoat, and the tension seeped out of his shoulders.

“That’s right, Doctor. Dinna fash yersel. Dram?”

Before night fell, the camp took on new life and new smells as the best of the deer went on to the fires. The men made a circle on the grass, some on blankets or robes, some already sprawled from the effects
of Nicholson’s rum. The women cooked and moved about, a separate community from the men, still at work while the men took their ease. Craik was handed a large mound of meat on a bark platter by the girl wearing his shirt, and he smiled at her, but she didn’t meet his eyes. He wondered for a moment what he looked like to her, or to any of them. Handsome? Ugly? The shirt already had a line of black across one shoulder, and a red hand-print on the back.

He took out his travelling case and unfolded his fork before cutting the meat. One of Washington’s blacks handed round a horn with salt and pepper. The savages just sat and ate, men with men, women off to one side.

Washington spoke into the stillness and the sound of many jaws working.

“Ask him from where he knows me, Mr. Nicholson.”

Nicholson spoke without slowing his meal. The old man put his pipe down on his robe and leaned forward a little, his whole attention on Washington.

“He says he nearly took you at the Monongahela.”

“Tell him I was too young to know one warrior from another.”

“He says you were guarded from his gun, and hopes you have a great future.”

“Ask him to tell it.”

The old man spoke for a moment, his right hand moving as if pointing at invisible things. Washington, too, looked at the invisible things. For the second time in a day, he thought of that bitter hour. All around them, the younger warriors stirred and settled themselves, even the drunk ones craning their heads to listen. The old man started, a sing-song quality to his narration, as if the beginning had been related many times, which it had. Nicholson picked it up almost immediately, listening and speaking with conviction, mere words behind his host. It was quite a feat, only the occasional occurrence of Scots Border brogue interrupting the impression that the old man was speaking the English himself.

“I was with the French captain at the first discharge, and he fell. We fired back at the high-hats and killed many, and they broke. Then we spread to the woods on either side of the trail. I killed four men in as many shots. Then I moved again, farther off the trail. Many warriors followed me. We fired and ran, fired and ran, trying to circle to the back. For many minutes, I didn’t know who was taking the worst of it.”

Washington held up his hand for a moment. “Did you go to the left of the trail, or the right?”

Nicholson cocked his head to listen to the old man, then nodded.

“We went up the hill, he says. He thinks that answers you.” Washington nodded.

“After some time we found a little hill with thick trees and we stayed there, firing into the men below us. That was the first time I shot at you. You were on a fine horse. I shot at you and hit the horse.”

“I remember that.” Washington looked into the fire. The battle was not yet a disaster. The grenadiers of the Forty-fourth, the only veterans in the regiment, had formed at the base of that deadly little hill. They kept up a hot fire, and Washington’s Virginians had started to gather on their flanks, staying behind trees but shooting steadily. Some of the raw battalion men of the Forty-fourth had begun to rally from their initial panic. Washington had just asked the grenadier captain to take the hill when his horse went down.

Nicholson paused in his translation to drink, but Washington was still there, kicking his feet free of the stirrups and sliding over the crupper, his boot pulls caught in the buckles of his saddlebag. By the time he was on his feet, the young captain had his jaw shot away, a third of the grenadiers were down, and they were past saving, the recruits and the Virginians with them.

It marked the bitterest moment of his life. The moment in which he knew that they were beaten, that the whole expedition, the empire, the army, the foundations of the world were undone.

Nicholson wiped his mouth and went on.

“You disappeared when the high-hats ran. I followed you. There was nothing to stop us—most of the English had stopped shooting. The next time I saw you, you were with the big general. He was struggling with his horse. I think it was hit. I tried for you again. Perhaps I hit the general. It is possible. He fell. You caught him. You and others carried him off and I couldn’t follow in the press.”

Washington nodded.

“I thought I’d lost you. Then, right at the end, there you were, all alone, sitting on another tall horse.”

Washington looked back into the fire. It was not a moment he liked to dwell on. He had ridden back into the rout and perhaps he had hoped to be killed. He couldn’t remember that part with any clarity, but it came to him some nights, when there were bills due in England or a crop failed.

“My musket was empty, and I started loading it. You yelled at some men running by, but you didn’t move. That is when it came to me that you had a spirit and it was not your day to die, and I thought I will take him for my own, and his spirit will join my clans. Others fired at you. I saw you pull a long pistol and shoot it somewhere else, and I was just ramming my ball home. I pulled the rammer clear and threw it down to get a faster shot, and I began to run toward you. You just sat. You never saw me. When I was almost close enough to touch you, as close as I am now, a boy came at me out of the brush. He spooked your horse. And I hit him with my club, but you were moving away. Indeed, I took him. Since I already had my captive, I thought I would kill you. I looked down the barrel and pulled the trigger, and the pan flashed, and no shot came, and still you rode. Then I looked down at the lock, as one does…you know?”

Washington nodded, a brother in the fraternity of men frustrated by the vagaries of flintlocks.

“When I had the priming back in, you were gone.”

The old man was done before Nicholson, and he looked at Washington and smiled. He pointed to a young man in an old French coat.

“It happens often to Gray Coat here when he hunts deer, but not to me.”

Most of the warriors laughed, although the one man looked sour.

“I should have ignored the boy, although he made a good slave, for a while. My mother adopted him, and he was with us until the Pennsylvania men made us send him away.”

Washington smiled, but he had rather the look of Gray Coat the moment before. The old man raised his hand, and smiled a feral smile.

“I should have killed him and taken you. I still wonder what kind of a slave you would have made.”​
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

“You clap on to that line and haul, laddie. That’s it. Handsomely now, you lot. Pull. Pull, you black bastards. Belay there, King. Right.” High overhead the newly fished spar rose into the dawn light and was seated home against the mast. The black men on the deck hauled and sweated, but the sailors sweated just as hard.

The squall had hit them inside the capes, laying the vessel on her beam-ends, stripping off every scrap of sail and cracking the fore-topsail yard. The sailor called King, a free black, had cut the broken yard away from the rigging it threatened to shred, standing on the canted deck with the ropes’ ends pounding him like a dozen fiendish whips.

The ship’s master, Gibson, had shipped a small cargo of West Indies blacks to augment the rum and molasses in the hold. They were skilled men: two bricklayers, a carpenter, a huntsman, and a gunsmith, all likely to fetch first-rate prices among the Virginia gentry. In the meantime, they could haul ropes in an emergency.

High above them, King waved at the captain and leaned out, grabbing a stay and sliding for the deck. Something King saw at the last moment of his slide halted him, and he ran his eyes over the group standing in the waist of the ship, still holding the line that had raised the yard. One young man had scars over his eyes, hard ridges that told a story, if the watcher knew what to read. King wandered over, acknowledging the praise of his shipmates and some good-natured abuse. He turned to the man with the scars, a wave of homesickness hitting his breast and slowing his breath.

“Hello, cousin.”

The man’s eyes widened for a moment, then his white teeth flashed in an enormous smile.

“Greetings, older cousin.”

The man looked young, young to have left home with the scars of a warrior and already have a skill worth selling in America. His face was not yet hard or closed as the slaves’ too often were.

“I honor your courage in the storm, older cousin.” Nicely phrased. King smiled himself, but turned away, headed for his hammock. It didn’t do to associate too much with slaves, at least where white men could see you. It gave them ideas.

King returned topside at the changing of the watch, to see the familiar low Virginia shore clear to the southwest. The Chesapeake had become confused in his memories with Africa, where great rivers ran deep into the woods, and he thought of Virginia as home, the place where he had a wife and a family. He stood by the heads watching the shore for a moment, and then moved into the waist. The sails were set and, barring a disaster, wouldn’t need to be touched until the turn of the tide. Until a crisis came, sailoring was an easy life, and King liked a crisis here and there. They made good stories.

The young one with scars was watching him from the group of slaves at the base of the mainmast. It was a polite regard: the youth didn’t stare, but simply glanced his way from time to time, as if inviting him to speak. King settled into the shade of the sail with the other crew on deck and accepted a draw from another man’s pipe. There were sailors who wouldn’t smoke with a black man, but not many around King. Gibson preferred English sailors to Americans. King had noticed that Englishmen seemed easier with blacks. It didn’t stand to reason.

“You gonna jabber some more o’ that black cant, King?” asked Jones, the mate.

“I might, then.” King looked at Jones, who was smaller but loved to fight.

“Now then, King, boyo, don’t you glare at me. I’m all for your talkin’ any lingo you like. It’s just funny to hear from you, that’s all I’m saying.” Jones was from a part of Britain called Wales, where they seemed to sing instead of talk. King was on the edge of a retort about Jones and talk, but he smiled to himself and let it pass. Instead he motioned to the scarred youngster, who rose from his squatting position against the mast in one fluid, athletic movement and walked across the deck to the sailors.

“Speak the King’s English, boy?”

“Little, ya.”

“The better you speak it, the better you will be treated. You have a name, then?”

“Cese. Cese Mwakale. My father commands a thousand warriors—”

“Not here, he doesn’t. What were you called in Jamaica?”


King nodded. He knew a dozen Caesars in Williamsburg. “How long ago were you taken?”

“Four years, older cousin. You?”

“Twenty-five years, young one. But I was a fool, and walked to their landings to see the world. Who was king when you left?”

“King of Benin, sir? Or of my province?”

“Benin will do.”

“Callinauw was king when I last heard, sir.”

“And where do you hail from?”

“Eboe, in Esaka. My father commanded the regiment there.”

King nodded, curtly. It took him back to hear the words, to know that a man he had hated once was lording it in Benin, but it all sounded very far away. He smiled at the young man and held out the other sailor’s pipe.

“Smoke, Cese?”

The lad seized the pipe greedily and sucked a great draught into his lungs. Jones watched in amazement as the inward breath went on and on. Cese held the breath for a moment and returned the pipe with more gravity than he had taken it.

Jones looked into the bottom of the pipe bowl and mimed using a glass. “Tobacco is cheap in Virginny, but not that cheap, Blackie.”

“Call him Cese.” King smiled at the boy.

“How were you taken?”

“My father’s regiment was away in the north. You know of the Northern War?”

“I had heard. It was a small trouble in my youth.”

“It is a great war now. So many young men are away that kidnappers, criminals, can steal children and young people from their homes; larger towns have militias of old men and women.”

“And the king tolerates this?”

“The king fears Muslims more than he cares for us. Listen, then. I was at the camp with the youngest men, those unblooded, just training. We were drilling with spears when the shots were fired, and our officers led us straight out after the raiders. The old men and women turned out with swords and shields, but the raiders shot them down with muskets.”

“Where were your own muskets? We had hundreds in my youth.”

“All our muskets were away with the regiment. Nor had we ever fought against men armed as our men were. So we charged them, like fools. In moments they were all around us, in the brush on our flanks. Some of us were shot, and some stopped charging and ran. When I saw that, I knew we were done. I determined to die, and charged on. My spear bit deep into one, and then I was clubbed down. When I awoke, I was a slave.”

“You killed one. That’s good.”

“I paid. Perhaps I’m still paying. Some of the men who were taken were ransomed later, but I was not. I think my father took another wife. I do not know.” He crossed his arms to indicate that this was not a topic he wished to discuss. “Now I am here. Tell me about Virginny.”

“What yo’ skill, Caesar?”

“Be a huntah, suh.”

“Hunter. Was your father of the Embrenake?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And weren’t such men distinguished by their speech? So it is here. Say hunter.”

“Hunt-ar.” The other slaves had edged closer. As the foreign speech was replaced by English, they gathered courage to join in.

“You goin’ to Jamaica again, then, Mista’ King?” asked one, a bricklayer.

“Yaas. I go twice a year, weather allowing. Mostly I sail wi’ Mr. Gibson.”

“You carry a message to my woman?”

“If’n you give me a good idea where to find her. I don’ go too close to some plantations. I been a slave twice an’ I don’ mean to go that way ‘gain. Won’ sail again till spring.”

Others asked for messages carried, or verbal messages, which King refused. He told them where to find a Quaker clerk in Williamsburg who would write out short messages for slaves, if asked nicely. Cese watched him eagerly, his head cocked a little to one side like a smart puppy awaiting instruction. King began to pass along whatever came to his mind, but they had questions of their own.

“Mista’ King, you know who we go be wo’kin’ fo?”

“I expect you be wo’kin’ fo Mr. Washington, if’n you be on his boat.”

“What he like?”

“They betta, an’ they worse. He be fair, and that somethin’.”

“He fair? Do he let us’ns buy freedom?”

“How ‘bout marriage? Do he abide black folks as marry?”

“Is it true that Christian folk can’t be slaves in Virginny?”

They were clamoring now, and their different accents were hard for him to understand. He shook his head at them. West Indian slaves were the most ignorant; they were kept in pens and didn’t get to hear much news.

“No. Many Christian folk is slaves.”

“Is you free if you gets to England?”

“So I hear. I been there, and I ain’t seen no slaves.” It was common knowledge that a man was free if he could reach England. Sometimes a man could get free by enlisting in the Royal Navy, too. King had bought his freedom the first time, saving pennies from his fishing to buy his way free. The second time, he’d taken one beating too many and run, joined a navy ship hungry for men, thin on the decks from the yellow jack in the Indies and with a hard first officer not liable to ask a man questions.

He looked back at the boy.

“You wan’ be free, Cese?”

“I will be free, Mista King.”

“You take care, now. Mr. Washington, he sell black boys wha’ try to run.”

Cese nodded. He looked out at the shore for a moment.

“Maybe I go England.”

“Go to England, Cese. Maybe so. You know who Somerset was?”

“No, suh.”

“He was a black man like you. He run from his master in England. Got caught, got beat, got a white man to take him to court. He won. No slavery in England now.”

Cese had heard a little of the story, but not so plain, always told elliptically so that an overseer wouldn’t understand. He thought it remarkable that a black man had got into a court at all, much less that his case should be heard. In the Indies, a slave couldn’t even give evidence, a fact of life that every slave knew all too well.

“Maybe I go to England,” he repeated.

“You take care, boy.”

King nodded to Jones and they stood, Jones carefully wrapping twine around his pipe and putting it into a fitted tin. Before the mate could call them aloft, they were standing at the base of the mainmast, ready for the last tack into the bay, the boy and the other slaves forgotten.

Cese watched the shore and thought about the raid and his last moments as a free man. He thought about it often, but now he tried to think about what England must be like, a land where men became free just by touching the ground, or so he had been told. He tried to imagine how to get to England, but he couldn’t see it. What he could see in his mind’s eye was the musket butt coming under his shield, into his hip and groin, the point of his spear going into the other man’s innards, his hand turning the blade as he had been taught. One kill. It didn’t seem like much of a tally against a life of servitude, and sometimes he wondered if he should just have died when he went down. And he thought about his father, a war captain of renown. He had probably taken another wife and forgotten Cese. Cese shook his head to send the memories away. He seldom thought of his father.

He looked at the coastline, nearer now, and decided to do the very best he could. Other slaves said Virginny was different from the Indies, the whites better, the living easier, and fewer folk died. Perhaps he could win his freedom.

“Hunt-ar.” He savored the word. “Eng-land.”
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Martha Washington

Henry Lee III

She meant trouble, that was plain. Martha’s eyes sparkled as they always did when she had mischief on her mind, but her voice seemed serious when she asked him to explain the day’s events. Of the men in the room, only Washington understood his wife’s message: they had already talked politics enough. Young Henry Lee, just graduated from Princeton, did not hear the irony in her voice or catch her meaning, and he leapt to explain with a simplicity that damned him as a patronizing animal to every woman present.

“It is not a complicated matter, ma’am.” Wiser heads turned to watch the man charge to his doom; his implication that she might be unequal to a more complicated matter lost him the support of the crowd.

“I’m sure you’ll make it all plain to me, Mr. Lee.”

“Indeed, ma’am. We have settled on choosing a committee of eleven men to obtain the most early and authentic intelligence of all such acts and resolutions of the British Parliament, or proceedings of administrations, as may relate to, or affect the British Colonies in America…”

“So you intend to form a Committee of Correspondence, as Massachusetts has?” Martha smiled at the younger man. She was quite short, but her immense dignity and the memory of her beauty, as well as her reputation, gave her a presence that only a few of the men could match, and Lee was not one of them.

“…to keep up and maintain a correspondence and communication with our sister colonies.”

“Mr. Lee, I believe you are repeating a speech that most of my guests have already heard.” Martha Washington said “Mistah” with the man’s name, and the drawl lengthened a bit each time she said it. “It certainly sounds like you have chosen a Committee of Correspondence.”

Lee looked at her as if he had just perceived that she was mocking him.

“I was endeavoring to explain, ma’am.”

“I think you were making a speech, sir. And what I wish to understand is, why? Why must we join a league with the good wives of New England? Why have you censured our governor for bringing to justice a counterfeiter whose work threatened every person of account in this colony? Why this incessant attack on Parliament?”

“Surely, ma’am, your husband has explained…” He looked about him with the assurance of a man of twenty, expecting allies against the assault of one small middle-aged woman, but he saw only stony stares, and this stung him. His opinion of women was not very high, but his standard of rhetoric had much to recommend it, and he felt sure he could defeat her, if only he chose the right arguments.

“That the counterfeiter needed to be brought to book no one here contends, ma’am. But the governor used methods that the House of Burgesses cannot condone without it impugning our stand on a larger issue, to wit, whether Americans can be taken out of our continent to England to be tried. This counterfeiter was in Pittsylvania County. The court there was competent to execute justice on him, but our governor chose to send a special sheriff and bring him to Williamsburg to justice.”

“And now he can no longer pass counterfeit five-pound notes that cause my steward to suspend business.” Martha smiled at him again, a happy smile that made it difficult for him to believe that he was being led to slaughter.

“But the legality places us awkwardly, ma’am. If the governor can write a warrant to take a man from his county to Williamsburg for trial, then the Admiralty in London can write a warrant for a smuggler to be taken from Boston to London for trial.”

“What of it? Are we not all English? Or is it your meaning that Americans will give their own a ‘fairer’ trial? Perhaps the smuggler will never be found guilty in Boston, Mr. Lee? Because if that’s your meaning, I can’t help but think that my steward is happier that this counterfeiter did not get a ‘fairer’ trial among his friends in Pittsylvania.”

Lee looked like a man who had just discovered a deep pit yawning at his feet. Arguments against the tyranny of the Crown were so popular in Virginia that he was not really ready to argue cases; he generally expected approbation in reply to any reasonable assault on the Government. Martha Washington, however, was of far too much consequence to ignore, and it struck him, then, that he could forfeit his standing either by offending her, as one of the richest landowners in the colony, or by losing the debate, which would not increase his stature with the House of Burgesses, to which her husband belonged, and to which he aspired.

Lee felt doubly ambushed in that Washington himself rarely spoke in the House, and was firmly a friend of liberty. It seemed astonishing that he should allow his wife to make such statements. He turned and looked at the tall colonel, who nodded gravely at him. He was actually expected to debate with her. Very well, then.

“Are you familiar, ma’am, with the Gaspee incident?”

“Perhaps you will help me understand it, Mr. Lee.”

If he heard the warning in her voice, he ignored it.

“In June of last year, a British armed cutter of that name, engaged in the suppression of the smuggling trade, ran herself aground in Narragansett Bay. A group of men boarded the cutter and burned her. An Admiralty court of inquiry was given jurisdiction over the case, and is understood to believe it has the right to send Americans to England for trial.”

“And this would be harmful because…” She drawled the last word as she had drawled his name, a deliberate provocation.

“They would never receive a fair trial in England! And an attack on the rights and privileges of any one colony are an attack on them all!” His voice was powerful, and declaimed well. The words were Jefferson’s, but he said them with complete conviction.

“But…” She smiled again, that happy smile that seemed to deny any possibility of open conflict. “But Mr. Lee, those men actually did burn that ship, did they not?”

The laughter was pained. Lee had the sympathy of the entire audience, many of whom had also labored under delusions about Martha’s native intelligence at one time or another. Washington simply looked absent, as if he refused to be a witness at another execution.

“The burning of the ship is not the issue,” he began, but she closed her fan with a snap that distracted him, and she stepped up close for the final assault.

“No, sir, it is not the issue, and you do the friends of liberty no service to pretend it is. The issue is that we smuggle because Great Britain chokes our own trade and won’t let us carry our own cargoes. That is the issue. And that they try to tax us beyond our ability to bear in prosperity, to pay her debts and ours from the Great War. That too is the issue. These are the issues, in trade, that will drive us to separate—that and the arrogance of our motherland, whose representative said at my own table that we are a race of cowards who could not stop five hundred of them from marching across our whole continent. That is the other issue. It is on these—trade, taxation, and the force of arms—that our arguments will rest. But not on the actions of law, or Dunmore’s taking of a counterfeiter.”

There was, quite spontaneously, a small round of applause, and Lee’s training as a gentleman triumphed over his adolescence. He not only avoided showing resentment, but smiled and bowed deeply.

“I hope you are always as passionately devoted to our cause as you are now, ma’am. You would be a devilish opponent in the House, and we’re lucky your husband does not speak more often, if he has trained you to this pitch of argument.”

Washington laughed aloud, a single bark that was completely different from his usual closed-mouthed laugh.

“Trained her? Trained her?” He barked again. “Perhaps, Mr. Lee, you now have a taste of why I’m so often silent.”
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Mount Vernon, Virginia

Queeny watched the new men come ashore from the plantation’s brig; West Indians didn’t hold much interest for her. They were usually so cowed by the comparative brutalities of Jamaica that Virginia seemed like paradise, and the Master bought only skilled men, tradesmen who were too old for her tastes. His field hands came only from America, as they were less apt to run.

She patted the sides of her cap of crisp white linen that she had made from one of Mistress’s cast-off shifts. The breeze was hard on caps, and Queeny was too vain to wear a straw bonnet like a field worker. She was tall and strong, but she had always been pretty enough to draw white eyes and clever enough to satisfy white mistresses. She had never done field work.

One of the new men was clearly young; he seemed to bounce with anticipation as the longboat came up to the plantation dock. He leapt from the thwart and helped moor the craft with a lithe agility that made her smile. The other blacks shuffled ashore, one kneeling to kiss the ground, one staring around him at the alien vegetation and neat brick buildings as if he had been delivered to another planet. The youngster looked left and right like a bird, his glance never stopping.

“You stick by me, Queeny, and we’ll have this lot sorted in no time.”

“As y’ say, Mista Bailey.”

A senior tenant farmer for the Washington and Custis farms, Bailey was in charge of the plantations while the Master was away in Williamsburg on business. Bailey was not a hard man, and had never offered her the least trouble, unlike the other senior tenant, whose hands never stopped. She often translated for Mr. Bailey.

Queeny was American born, but she had grown up on a plantation where most of the slaves spoke only African tongues. Her father and mother were upcountry Ebo, and she spoke almost all the coastal languages. It was a skill that made her valuable, and like her looks and easy manner, it kept her from the fields. Queeny followed him down the gravel path to the dock, a demure three paces behind.

“Captain Gibson.”

“Mr. Bailey.”

“A prosperous voyage?”

“Well enough, sir, well enough. I lost a spar in the roads of the Chesapeake, and the new customs officer in Jamaica led me a merry dance on our bills of lading, but all told, why, here we are.”

“I’m sure the colonel will be pleased. I see you got the slaves he asked for.”

“That I did. Jones here can tell you their trades, although this one, Red Scarf, is a gunsmith. He touched up the flints on my pistols, took the locks apart and put them together neat as neat. I wanted to try him.”

“An’ he put right the cock o’ King’s barker what he bent,” put in a sailor.

“So he did. And they all worked with a will to get a new spar up for me, so I’ve given them a penny a piece and two for the smith.”

“Colonel likes his people to have a little cash. No harm in it, nor do I think. What do you have for me besides a smith? Did Colonel Washington order a smith?”

“I don’t think that he did, sir, at that. But the whole lot were going off an estate sold for debt, all skilled men, an’ we took the lot.”

“Fair enough.”

“This one’s a bricklayer, answers to Jemmy.” The man nodded obsequiously.

Bailey didn’t like the look of the man, but the good lord knew they needed bricklayers. “Welcome to Mount Vernon, Jemmy.”

Jemmy bowed his head and smiled at the tone. Queeny fixed him with a stare. He was second or third generation, she could tell, and like as not had some white in him. She couldn’t see his tribe in anything obvious. Nothing for her to do here—he understood Bailey, was already seeking his approval.

“Smith, answers to Tom.”

“I hope he’s an improvement over the last Tom, eh, Queeny?” She shook her head and smiled. The last Tom had been a man. He was gone, sold to the Indies, and she missed him in her bed and in her thoughts.

“Welcome to Mount Vernon, Tom.”

“Yes, suh.” Tom was short and swarthy, with a red flush on top of pale brown skin, and curly, lank hair. He was eyeing Queeny appreciatively. She gave him no encouragement.

“Huntsman, answers to Caesar.” The young one. He, too, was looking at her and he smiled, a young man’s smile.

“Huntsman? We asked for a man good with animals.”

“Yessir. That’s your man. He got the boat’s pigs and goats here in fine fettle. They say he’s good with dogs.”

Bailey looked at Caesar, as this was the slave the colonel had ordered himself and the dogs boy would be close to the colonel many days in the field.

“Can you run, boy?”

He looked blank. It was an intelligent blankness; he didn’t squirm or babble.

“What is your name, boy?” she asked in the lingua franca of the Ivory Coast. He looked at her, concentrating hard, squinting his eyes slightly, then smiled.

“Cese, madam.”

The honorific expressed age and successful child rearing, and if it was meant to flatter her, it failed completely. Old indeed.

“Cese, the white man wants to know if you can run.”

“I speak Benin. Please, ma’am, I do not understand this talk you make.” The last phrase rolled off his tongue smoothly, the product of frequent repetition.

“My Benin not good.”

“I understand you.”

“White man ask you. Can run?”

“Like the wind in the desert. Like an antelope with the lion behind.”

Queeny rolled her eyes at the difficult words, the poetic suggestion.

“Mista Bailey, this boy say he run plenty fast. He from Africa, though. Masta don’t like African boys, Mista Bailey.”

“Right. Well, tell him he’s welcome to Mount Vernon.”

“You from Benin, then?”

“Yes. Obikoke. I am Yoruba!”

“White man says you welcome here.”

The boy looked surprised. “Why is he talking to us at all?”

“They like to be polite, boy. It don’t mean you aren’t a slave.”

Bailey looked interested. “What’s he saying?”

“He jus’ on about how he run.”

“The others seem to speak well enough, Queeny. You take the boy and teach him some English, and make sure he knows the rules before the colonel comes home.”

“Yes, Mista Bailey.”

“You others, come with me and I’ll show you your quarters. Captain Gibson, perhaps you could join me in a quarter hour for a glass.”

“I’d be that pleased, Mr. Bailey. I’ll just see that this lot get the unloading started.”

The two white men bowed slightly, and parted.

Cese followed the Ebo woman up the long gravel path from the dock toward her hut. The slave quarters were like nothing he had ever seen: a long elegant brick building on one side, with dormitories for the unmarried house slaves, and a neat row of cabins on the other, larger and more open than he expected, set farther apart, the whole having more the air of a village than a prison. In Jamaica, his quarters, the “barracoon”, had been fenced and locked every night. At Mount Vernon, there wasn’t even a wall.

Some of the blacks smiled when they saw him and his escort. None were chained. Most of the men had shirts and trousers, most of the women had a shift and petticoats, and several, like Queeny, sported jackets or gowns. She had a jacket of India cotton, far better than anything he had seen on a Negro in the Indies, but she was probably the queen, mistress to the master. She was old to be a queen, he thought, but her shape was fine and her face good.

The woman neither looked at him nor spoke to him, but simply walked along, nodding to other slaves, and once dropping a curtsy to a white woman, who smiled at her as they passed.

“Queeny, dear. Is this a new boy?”

“Yeas, Miz Bailey.”

The white woman examined Cese with a careful eye. She noted the narrow rows of scars over his eyes.

“He looks African, Queeny.”

“I says the same to yo husban, Miz Bailey.”

“The colonel may not like it. Still, the boy’s pretty enough. Run over to the well and back, boy.”

Cese was aware that he had been addressed, but the words were too fast, the accent too different. He smiled to show willing, and looked at Queeny.

“You run. Go to the well and come back.”

He set his bundle down and took a deep breath before hurling himself forward. The two women watched as his long legs flashed faster, as he leaned his weight into a curve around the well and pulled himself straight with the grace of a cat. Then he dashed past them, slowed, and came back, making a small bow to Mrs. Bailey as he did so. When he took up his bundle, there was a faint line of sweat on his upper lip, but his breathing was deep and even.

Mrs. Bailey laughed aloud.

“He is splendid, is he not? He runs like a god. Oh Queeny, teach him quickly. The Colonel will make a fortune on those legs.”


Queeny curtsied again and moved off toward her hut. Her position allowed her half of a hut that typically housed a family of six, or up to eight men. She shared it with another woman, the house seamstress, Nelly. Nelly would be up at the big house at this hour, sewing her tiny meticulous stitches under the eyes of the colonel’s wife and treating her disorders.

“You the master’s queen? Is that why you are called Queeny?”

She smiled at the thought that the colonel would have a queen at all, although most plantations did. Some owners used their women as a harem; others took a preference for one woman and that made her queen, often hated by the master’s wife but powerful in her own way. The colonel didn’t seem to care for dark women.

“No queen here, boy. Master don’t chase us. Mr. Bailey, neither.”

Cese nodded, thoughtfully. One of the older men was sitting on the step of his hut, smoking a black pipe. Children, naked or in shifts according to their age, dashed along the central street of the slave quarter. Queeny ducked to enter the one room of her hut, but he stayed in the doorway, looking around him. None of the slaves he could see were Yoruba, like him. Most were southerners or pagan BaKongo from the interior, or mixes from different tribes. It had been the same in the Indies.

“Where are the gates?”

“No gates.”

“You get locked in at night, don’t you?”


“Why don’t you run, sister? Are you all cowardly BaKongo, too stupid to escape?”

She glared at him from the darkness of her hut.

“You’ll learn, African boy. Shut your mouth now, and listen to me. It is my job to teach you the talk, and I will. I’ll teach you more than that, if you let me. There are dogs, there’s militia, there’s the hunt, all out for any Negro that thinks to run. There is ways to run, hear me? But you don’ know them and you better learn. Now get in here this instant. I want to teach you to speak and to stay alive.”

He ducked his head and entered, his thoughts still outside. Most of the slaves he could see were Ebo and Luo, ignorant southern BaKongo from the interior who were prey to superstition, carried inferior weapons—pliant. Luo women were notoriously loose. This one spoke to him as no woman should speak to a man, although he had grown used to it in Jamaica. She didn’t have the look of the Luo, though, and she knew more than a few words of the Benin language, which made her something. And the old sailor, King, had said to learn the language.

She was probably Ebo, it struck him. He had the urge to laugh at the irony: at home his father had kept Ebo slaves, and here, the Ebo always seemed to be above him. Of course, at home, slavery was never so permanent.

The urge to laugh never lasted. The urge to violence was always there. As he did dozens of times a day, he resisted the urge to lash out. When all his training told him to fight, or resist a blow or an insult, he would think one phrase to himself.

Today, I am a slave.

He sat on a stool, murmuring “Yes, ma’am.”

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

English Gunflints

Detail - parts of a flintlock mechanism

King George III - English solid silver shilling

“And Ben Carter has taken a schoolmaster from Princeton!” Henry Lee, well dressed to the point of foppery, was holding forth.

“I don’t think that will cause the collapse of civilization, gentlemen.” Washington was busy with accounts and tired of Lee’s youth.

Dr. Thompson reached across the table to take a small basket of English gunflints.

“Colonel, I think Mr. Lee means to suggest that Mr. Carter is avoiding the import of English lessons as well as English goods.”

“Well put, sir. My meaning exactly.”

Colonel Washington idly turned the rowel of a neat silver spur on his boot, his attention more under the table than above it. “I dare say Princeton produces some very educated men.”

This was as close to a witticism as Washington ever came, as Henry Lee had just graduated from that very academy.

“I knew him there. A bit of a prig, to be sure, but he seems to know his lessons well enough. Can’t dance, though.” Henry Lee was suddenly contemptuous.

“Neither does Grigg, and we still pay him to carry our tobacco to England,” commented Dr. Thompson, a slight man in quiet clothes.

“I can’t see that it signifies much whether a man can dance a minuet, whether he’s captain of a ship or a schoolteacher, Mr. Lee,” Washington said quietly.

“I’d like my children to grow up to be as good as their peers in London or Jamaica. Can you imagine going out in London and not dancing?” Lee seemed unaware of the internal hypocrisy of his argument. Washington decided it was too much to correct him, and let his attention wander back under the table. Alone of the seated men, he had missed education in the home country, and the slight smile that touched his mouth suggested that it was not a matter that interested him overmuch. “Are you gentlemen supporting the embargo on English goods?”

Dr. Thompson seemed rather caught out, as he had five carefully selected gunflints in one hand and a good hard English shilling in the other.

“In the main,” he said, shifting in his seat.

“Tea for certain,” said Lee. “Otherwise it depends on circumstances. What are we to do for cloth?”

“I’ve seen decent wool cloth from this country.” Washington looked at them. “I’m raising a company of select militia, gentlemen, and I’ll see them all uniformed in good American cloth.”

“Select militia?” asked Lee with a young man’s interest. He leaned forward attentively, then paused, aware that he was revealing too much enthusiasm for an aristocratic Lee.

“To train a cadre of officers and NCOs. The kind of men we lacked so badly in the last war.”

“Ahh, I see,” said Lee, feigning disinterest. “And while we Lees wonder about boycotting English wool, will the Washingtons still be purchasing a piano?”

Washington nodded to acknowledge the hit. “And velvet caps for my hunt boys. I suppose that the doctor’s ‘in the main’ will have to do duty for every one of us.”

Young Henry Lee had a way of pointing out men’s flaws that made him difficult company at the best of times. Washington had ordered the offending pianoforte for his stepdaughter, Patsy, well before the embargo. Now she had died untimely, but he had no intention of turning it away. Nor would he turn away the parcel of velvet hunting caps, the livery jackets, or the new silver spoons. Nor discard the hallmarked English spurs on his boots.

“Mr. Blain?” Washington held out a handful of gunflints to the owner of the store.

“Colonel Washington, sir. How may I be of service?’

“Mr. Blain, Mr. Lee has just been kind enough to point out that no man of us has been perfect in our attention to the embargo on English goods, but I wonder, sir, if what I’ve heard of New York gunflints is true, that they are as good as English?”

“Why, truth to tell, Colonel, I’d never given it any thought. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them offered for sale.”

Washington was examining the English flints as if they carried disease. “I saw them in Albany, last war.”

Lee laughed. “I’ve lived in New Jersey. I have a difficult time imagining anything good coming out of New York.”

“I’ll look into it, Colonel.”

“If you manage it, Mr. Blain, I’ll see my militia buy all their flints here, and other goods besides.”

“Is it to be a corps of cadets, Colonel Washington?” Mr. Blain was openly curious, and thus more civil than young Lee had seemed.

“Something like, Mr. Blain.”

“You don’t suppose that this trouble with England will end in a struggle, sir?”

Washington rose at the sound of his wife emerging from the back of the house. He motioned to his slave, waiting against the wall, to fetch the chaise.

“I know of no one who desires a struggle, sir.”

“Can you honestly imagine us fighting the mother country, sir?” Henry Lee swaggered.

Washington whirled on the young man. “Seeking to provoke a quarrel by forcing the contrary opinion on every matter is uncivil, sir. First you seek to lesson me on boycotting English goods, and now you question whether we would fight England. Which way will you have it?”

“I meant no offense.” But Lee was sullen.

Dr. Thompson started, worried at the sudden change in tone. He was a civil, gentlemanly man, and took his social duties as seriously as his medical. “I gather that congratulations are in order, Colonel Washington?”

The coldness around Washington’s eyes suggested no such thing. He looked at the men, especially the men of quality, as if measuring them for uniforms, and was deaf to Thompson’s approach. He stared at Lee and said, emphatically, “If the Government insists on making slaves of us, they will leave us little choice, sir.”

With dogged social sense, Dr. Thompson pressed on.

“Your son is to be married, I gather, Colonel? Allow me to present best wishes for their happiness.”

Washington nodded, breathed, and nodded with a trifle more warmth. The thaw spread up from his jaw to his eyes; it did not reach them, however.

“Thank you, Doctor. I will indeed tender your best wishes to the happy couple. The wedding is not for some months.”

The doctor would have found that look inimical or even offensive with most men, but Washington in anger was someone to be handled gently, like a dog with a bad tooth.

Washington’s slave, Jacka, reappeared at the door, and a slight nod of the head indicated that the carriage was ready. Washington gave his wife his arm, and her slave followed them in her customary silence. An ungainly man was coming up the steps of the store, and he bowed to the lady as she passed.

Henry Lee, seeking to make amends, indicated the newcomer. “Colonel Washington, this is Mr. Fithian, the Carters’ schoolmaster. Mr. Fithian is a graduate of Princeton, in far-off Jersey. Mr. Fithian, Colonel Washington, one of the heroes of the late war, and his wife.”

“Your servant, sir. My condolences. I had the pleasure of your daughter’s acquaintance. She danced with my pupils in Mr. Christian’s class.”

“Yes, I’m sure. A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Fithian.”

“I have heard of your exploits my whole life, sir. Allow me to present my humble admiration.” Indeed, it fairly shone from him.

Washington nodded, disconcerted by the reminder of Patsy’s death, and confounded by admiration as he always was. He bowed to accept the compliment, his face a little red.

“Odd accent,” he noted later in the carriage. “Odd notions, in the Jerseys. Parochial. Imagine a man that age not dancing.”

Martha smiled for the first time since the reminder of her daughter’s death.

“And Lee can be such a pup,” he added.

“Yes, dear. But hardly the first young man to behave so. Will you be coming with me up the river?” she asked.

He considered as he watched the passing countryside. “I think it would be best if I posted home to Mount Vernon and opened the house for you.” Washington smiled slowly at her. He wanted her to see that things could be as they had been before, that Patsy’s death was not the end of the world. She was showing signs of recovery, but he wanted more.

Martha smiled at him, the old smile that showed that the real Martha was still inside the mourner.

“You get home and make it all right,” she said. “I’ll just follow along, as always.” They chuckled together a moment, and she began a long account of the ball.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

George Washington Foxhunting

Cese had worn shoes before, but never boots. He had been given trousers in Jamaica, but here received stockings and good strong breeches of hemp twill. Queeny dressed him several times, trying clothes on him until she was satisfied.

She walked around him like an artist with a sculpture, admiring her work. “I wan’ cut those sca’s right off you, they look so ‘landish,” she chastened him. The days had sharpened his English considerably, and she refused to help him in Benin or the trade language any longer, except to taunt him. He reached up and touched the scars. She pushed his hand away.

“Don’ draw no ‘tention to ’em.”

She was a tall woman, but he stood over her, six feet or more in the boots. His legs were long for his height, and the breeches and stockings accentuated the muscles of his calf and thigh. He had a white shirt from Mr. Bailey’s castoffs; the patches at the shoulders never showed under his waistcoat and the short blue jacket that Nelly had let out for him, a remnant of Mr. Charles’s younger days. He held his head straight, and placed his right hand on his hip like the white gentlemen, a rather striking affectation for a black man and one Queeny had never seen. Cese never considered it; he had been beaten as a child until he learned to hold his shield in just such a way, resting his spear hand, and the pose, alike in Africa and classical Rome, had been ingrained in him as it was in the men whose statues adorned the white world.

The pose made Queeny a little nervous, although she couldn’t place why, but the face reassured her—an open, honest face, with a long, broad nose and large, dark, wide-set eyes still free from cynicism, his smile directed at her breasts under the boned cotton jacket she wore. It had taken her less than a day to lead him into seducing her, and she had tied him with the strings of his own notions of loyalty. Those eyes promised her some time of pleasure and comfort, as long as she could train him to his tasks and keep his arrogance at bay. He was a good man. She wanted him to stay and not go the way of Tom. But the easy confidence of his pose was troubling, and the clothes had not had the effect she expected, of cowing him, but the opposite. What he had in common with Tom was the danger—too damn smart. Queeny was old enough to know that what drew her to them was the very thing that would take them away. She smiled, a secret, bitter smile.

He smiled back, turning out his toes. “Hard to run in dese, Queeny.”

“These,” she said automatically. “You jes’ learn, Caesa’. Colonel gon’ expec’ you run in those, and those clothes too.”

“Dese ones hurt the feet, Queeny.”

“These, Caesa’. I don’ speak like Miz Bailey, but I wants you to speak bettah, not like no field negra. This, That, These, Those. Say it.”

“This…that…these…those,” he said purposefully as he began to trot up and down the street, followed by children from all the huts. His speed was already a byword. He had beaten the plantation champion on his first evening, and then downed another slave, Pompey, in a short but fair fight whose origins escaped him. Later he accepted that Pompey had seen him as rival for Queeny before he himself had even thought of wanting her.

The boots hurt his feet, but they could be borne. His toes splayed wide from a life spent barefoot, and the short boots had been made to accommodate a more civilized foot. He changed his stride, taking longer paces to change the pressure on his feet, and leaned into the turn by the well. As he passed it, his feet went out from under him, the slick leather soles betraying him on the dry ground. He rolled over and felt the thin material around one of the patches in his shirt give way, but he bounded to his feet and increased his speed back to Queeny’s distant door.

“Don’ run so hard, Caesa’. Never give them all you got. They jus’ wan’ it every time.”

He smiled at her, his big open smile full of teeth and confidence. She was angry, for some reason.

“I always got mo of dat ting, I think. Always little mo.”

“Always a little mo. That thing.”

“Yeah, yeah. Always a little mo. That thing.”

“Now give me that shirt, you. You gon’ keep me an’ Nelly sewing all the time.”

“Not all the time,” he said neatly and clearly, and put his hands round her waist, lifting her playfully through the door of her hut. She liked to be lifted, liked when he showed his strength. She laughed, and he was caught in her again.

The dogs were easy—easy in that keeping dogs had been his job in Jamaica, and easy in that these had never been mistreated and took to him from the first. They were trained, he could tell; they had good noses and fine voices, and he fed them meat—more meat than he himself got in a week, but that made no mind. The pack leader was a surprisingly small bitch with a full bell-toned voice, and he took her out and ran with her in the yard, and then with one of her mates. In Jamaica he had known all the packs, and most of the ground, although the packs hunted slaves more often than animals. Cese knew the fox hunt only by repute, never having seen one, but he had learned the rules.

The Master was due home in a matter of days, and the hunt season was on them. All his tests would come together. Virginia was a step up from Jamaica, and he didn’t intend to go back to the beatings and the threat of worse—the barracoon and the pens. Queeny had passed to him her fears that he would be found wanting and sent back to Jamaica. He ran with the hounds and listened to anything any man could tell him about the hunts. Most of them had been beaters, one time or other; Pompey worked the hounds from time to time, and seemed to bear little ill will about the fight.

Pompey resented him for Queeny, and for his instant possession of the dogs, but the fight had been a matter of form. If Pompey bore him a grudge it was well hidden, and none of the hundred other blacks he had met seemed to hold his position against him. Any resentment they might have felt for his clothes and his possession of Queeny vanished in the face of the bricklayer, who already had six of the slaves working under him and was laying the front walk, formerly a broad expanse of white gravel, in brick. He was demanding and brutal as only a man who has learned his leadership on a Jamaican plantation could be. As a skilled man, he had his own hut. As an outsider, he had already earned more than his share of enemies. He was working to get the front walk paved for the Master’s return to keep his place, and Cese had already heard rumors from the others of things that might have been done to the walk—chalk in the mortar, holes under the bricks to make cracks appear. Cese watched and learned, keeping his thoughts to himself.

The other slaves were a mixture, their names and faces still a blur in his head, alien faces, Ebo and Efik and Teke, Luo and Seke and others from further inland. There were no other Yoruba or Ashanti soldiers, hardly any Benin at all, and they half-castes from the coast. His mother had once said that there was good even in an Ebo, if one was patient, and he schooled himself to patience. Queeny was good company, and the work was light compared to the Indies.

He asked Queeny about the threatened attacks on the front walk.

“Oh, it do happen, Caesa’. It do.”

“In the Indies they rack a slave till they know who done it.”

Queeny shook her head. “This ain’t the Indies, boy. You be ‘spectful, you smile, but then you keep some fo’ you. If’n they push hard, you break yo’ tools. If’n they ‘spect you to work all night, you spoil yo’ work. Every one of us know to do this, Caesa’. You pay ‘tention, boy. Indies slaves work too hard, too ‘fraid. Make the otha’s look bad.”

“Queeny, I be’nt afraid. If’n you’s so brave, why not run?”

“Some do. It be a hahd life, Caesa’. Hahd in woods, and hahd on the road, and the devil to pay if they catch you.”

“I heah no slaves in England.”

“English ship brought me heah. English mans run the farms. You know ‘bout Flo-ri-da?”

“No. You tell me.”

“Some time I tell you ‘bout John Canno. But you walk careful, listen to what I tell you. Be ‘spectful, but keep some back.”

“I heah you. I hear you.”

“Cause they don’ really thank you fo’ it, Caesa’. If’n they nice o’ if’n they nasty, you still a slave.”

“You know ‘bout Somerset, though?”

“I know I hear fools say we all be free. He one man. Good fo’ him, I say. He free. I ain’ free.”

Cese looked at the ground a minute, and kept his thoughts to himself.

Today, I am a slave.

Washington rode easily, one leg cocked up over the pintle of his saddle. He had almost reached his own land and had nothing but pleasure ahead of him. He looked forward to a release from politics for a few days, because the incessant clamor against the home country could be fairly shrill. In darker moments, he wondered that they dared. In others, he suspected that they were simply grumbling like soldiers on a long march. Soon enough, the debts from the Great War would be paid, and surely then the politics would return to something like normalcy.

Jacka was up on a new bay behind him, riding out in circles when the ground allowed to try to work the friskiness out of the big horse. Washington looked at him and grunted in approval. As he looked, his gaze was caught by something well to the east over Jacka’s shoulder and he sat up, tacked his free foot back in the stirrup, and put his spurs to his horse. Jacka, caught off guard, was well behind him in an instant.

There was a man, a big man, taking crabs from the river in a little punt. Two black women and another man were building a fire on the bank. Washington rode up to the big man, already angry.

“What are you about, sir!” he called.

“Takin’ crabs, squire,” said the man. His tone was insolent. “They’re God’s crabs, I think.”

Washington dismounted and walked along the bank until he was opposite the little boat.

“What’s your name, then?”

The man was as big as Washington or even bigger, with a strong, even brutal, face and a squint. He was dressed in an old overshirt and filthy linen.

“I’m Hector Bludner, squire. I was in the Virginny regiment, I was.” He chuckled, clearly sure that such a point would clear him of any wrongdoing. “I know you, too, Colonel.”

“All right, Mr. Bludner. Bring that punt back in here and get off my land.”

Bludner looked at him as if genuinely offended. Perhaps he was.

“This ain’t England, squire. This is Amerikay. You don’ own the crabs!”

Washington stooped and lifted a rock the size of a man’s fist. He cocked his arm and threw it at the boat. It went right through the flimsy timber, and in a moment, Bludner was splashing and cursing in the shallow water.

“Bastard!” he yelled.

While he was floundering about, Washington turned on the little man and the two women. One was a black girl of perhaps sixteen with a fine face marred only by a collection of bruises. The other was older, perhaps her mother. She moved slowly and Washington could see she had a broken leg, badly reset.

He addressed the smaller white man.

“Get off my land this instant, or I’ll arrest you all as vagrants. What do you do?”

The little man scratched his head a moment.

“We take slaves for folk.”

Washington spat. “I have no use for your kind. My slaves don’t run.”

Jacka caught that remark coming up late, but if he thought anything of it, he kept it to himself.

Bludner was ashore now, soaked and raging. He struck the young woman hard, so that the impact sounded like a pistol shot. The little man just got out of his way and began to load a pony. His attack on the woman enraged Washington, who stood his ground, waiting for Bludner to approach him. Bludner spent a moment getting his blood up, cursing.

“Your kind is why we need to spill some blood in these parts, by damn. No ‘nobles’ in Amerikay!”

Washington watched him with calm ferocity.

“You’re a coward and a pimp.”

Nothing spurs hatred in a man like the memory of admiration, and Bludner had once sought Washington’s approval through a whole summer as a soldier. He took his time making his move, talking a great deal, so that when he finally shifted his weight he almost caught Washington off guard. But Washington had wrestled Indians and Virginians all his life. He sidestepped and sent a blow from his fist into Bludner’s head that staggered him. Then he struck him again, stepping inside his long-armed blows and pounding a fist up under the man’s arm, knocking the wind out of him, then hammering the man’s face and chest until he fell. Then he kicked the man twice without compunction. Jacka watched with a smile, while the little man just kept loading the group’s goods on two ponies. Washington could see the butt of an unexpectedly fine rifle standing up from one pony.

He nodded at Bludner on the ground, and at their camp.

“Take any crabs you already have ashore—I won’t have them go to waste. Then get you gone. If I see you in the country, I’ll have you taken up on a charge.”

The little man merely nodded.

Jacka was watching the pretty girl. She was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen—prettier than Queeny—with her almond eyes and pouty lips. She met his eye boldly.

“What’s you’ name?” he asked.

“I’m Sally,” she said, tossing her head despite a new and spreading bruise on her cheek. Clearly mere beatings couldn’t break her spirit.

Washington mounted again and rode a little apart, watching them, his easy mood of the road broken. He handed Jacka a pistol.

“See they get clear of my land.”

Jacka nodded.

Mr. Bailey wanted a great reception for Colonel Washington, and he intended to line the drive with the servants and slaves, some old retainers, and a few friends at the top, nearest the house, standing well back to be discrete and different from the lower orders on the drive. In the meantime, fires were lit throughout the house, everything was cleaned to a fare-thee-well, and the beds were turned down in the master bedroom. They posted a boy well up the road to give them the signal.

When the boy came dashing back, Mr. Bailey gave the signal, ringing his hand bell, and men and women came running from the nearest farms and outbuildings. Mr. Bailey was appalled to see his master riding up without a coat, with one hand swollen and bleeding and his breeches all muddy. He stood at the great horse’s head and welcomed the colonel, and all the servants and slaves stood silently as Washington reviewed them and nodded. He rarely praised, and in his current mood, although he was aware that a special effort had been made and that something was called for, he merely grunted to Bailey as he completed his review.

He saw new slaves, and he didn’t know them. The tallest of them, a well-built lad, had tiny ridges of scars over his eyes. He’d never seen the like, and it did nothing to improve his mood, as it was a disfigurement on a noble-looking man, and meant he was fresh from Africa. He didn’t like Africans. He’d said so often enough.

“Let me see to your poor hand,” said Mrs. Bailey, and he let himself be dragged inside.

Two chimes of his French watch later, he was dressed in proper clothes, the dust of the road and the dirt of the fight washed clean, and the knuckles of his hands well bandaged. He had taken a glass of rum and mint, cool from the back house, and followed Bailey out on to the lawn to inspect the front walk.

“What’s the bricklayer’s name?”

“Jemmy, sir.”

“He’s done some good work here, Bailey. But the men don’t think much of him. They’ve spoiled the mortar in a few places.”

“Yes, sir. I tried to watch them, Colonel. I made two men replace the gravel. They left holes in the work.”

“I see.”

“He hit them, did this Jemmy.”

“I won’t have it. See that he understands, Mr. Bailey, and get the walk finished. I expect to turn a nice profit on this fellow and his crew when they can pull in harness. Mrs. Carter would pay handsomely this minute to have her outbuildings touched up. I want a new kennel.”

“I understand, Colonel.”

“But it will be a wasted investment if he tries to come it the lord over them.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now there is a smith?”

“I haven’t seen much of him, sir. Perhaps I was remiss. I put him to helping at housework, as I didn’t want to test him on your forge. He came with a character for being capable with firearms, but I didn’t see fit to test him on yours.”

“I’ll see to it. I thank you for it. I fairly dread the notion of a wild man loose with my fowlers. And the dogs boy?”

“A likely lad, sir. Young and cheerful, runs like the wind. Beat Tam in a fair race and downed Pompey with his fists. And the dogs like him.”

“Well, I look forward to seeing this paragon. He’s African?”

“He is. Queeny says Yoruba, perhaps…perhaps Ashanti.”

“I don’t take to Africans, Bailey, but we’ll see. I’ve always heard said Ashanti made the worst slaves.”

“Perhaps this one will change your mind, sir.”

“I’ll expect to see him with the dogs this afternoon. Send the smith to me in a few minutes.” He cast a last glance over the new brick walk and the lawn running down to the Potomac.

“You did well in my absence, Bailey. My thanks.”

He was gone in a few long strides, leaving Bailey to enjoy the rare praise alone.

The new boy was working grease into his boots in a cool corner of the shed, a small wooden tub of the stuff under one hand and the boots laid out before him, their laces stripped off to the sides. He also had several of the dog collars laid out in the straw and a leash, as well. The hounds were gathered round him, and he was speaking to them, slowly and clearly, enunciating English words, “This, these, that, those.”

Washington stopped in the doorway and watched him for a moment. “He has something of the air of a soldier.”

Bailey stood behind him, concerned that the floor of the kennel would spoil the boy’s new breeches.

“I remember the regulars with Braddock,” Washington went on. “They cleaned their gear the very same way, everything laid out neat before them.”

Cese was aware of the Master when the first words were spoken, and he betrayed no alarm at being caught sitting barefoot in the kennel, but put his boots off to one side and rose gracefully to his feet without his hands touching the floor. His height was just shy of Washington’s, and he looked him in the eye for a moment before bowing from the waist. He saw a tall man, in a scarlet coat and buff cloth smallclothes, top boots. He had an impression of power, cloaked, a little hidden—like a chief. A more athletic man than any master he had had—more imposing. Mr. Bailey seemed a slight thing by comparison.

“What are you putting on that leather, boy?”

Cese worked it out in his head, to be sure.

“Hog’s fat, suh. Little linseed oil.”

Washington nodded briskly. He examined the dogs; they looked clean and fit.

“I hear you are fast, boy.”

Cese smiled and bobbed his head.

“What do they call you?”

“Cese, suh.”

Bailey actually stepped forward, as if to fight off the African name. “Caesar, Colonel.”

“Ah, Caesar. He has a bit of the Roman look to him, does he not?” Washington was disconcerted for a moment—a rare feeling, quickly dismissed. Then he smiled—a quick flash, without teeth, but one that lit his face—and he turned back on Bailey.

“Am I understanding? Caesar beat Pompey?”

Bailey looked at him without understanding, and Washington shook his head and moaned inwardly; his moments of learned wit were few enough, to fall on such barren ground.

“Perhaps we’ll call him Julius Caesar?”

Bailey was still trying to make out why Washington was so concerned that the new slave had beaten Pompey.

“It were a fair fight, Colonel.”

Washington smiled again, nodded.

“I’m sure it was, Bailey. But I like the name. Julius Caesar. Tell Queeny—he’s with Queeny?”

“Yes, Colonel.”

“Julius Caesar. I like the look of him, Mr. Bailey. Tell him I will want him and the hounds out tomorrow morning. See to it.”

“Yes, Colonel.”

“He has a jacket?”


“I have the caps in my baggage. See that he has one. All the neighborhood will be riding tomorrow, and he must be smart.” Washington leaned over the stile and looked him in the eye.

“I like to be there when the dogs are fed, Caesar. When you have their food made up, you send to the house for me, if I am by. Do you understand?”

“Yes, suh. Then dogs know you.”

Washington nodded. “Exactly. Boy, what will you feed ’em tonight?”

Caesar took a moment to think over his reply.

“They gun dogs, they rest tomorro’. They get meat. They hounds, they run tomorrow. They get bread soaked in broth, roll’ in balls.”

Washington smiled, a thin-lipped movement that hid his teeth.

“And they’re all well, Caesar?”

“Blue heah…Blue here, she’s coat be dull, be’nt it, suh?”

“You tell me.”

“An’ she won’ take huh food. Her food.”

Amused at the boy’s eagerness and air of confidence, Washington leaned out farther over the stile.

“What do you do for a dog like that?”

“I wash her in broth and see dat…that she licks herse’f and get her some food.”

“I take a little turbith mineral, I make it into a ball with corn syrup, and I give it her to eat.”

“Neva heard that one, suh. What’s turbit?”

“Mr. Bailey, would you be so good as to reach down the second tin. The very one. Look here, boy. I take as much as will cover a nail. See? I’ll mix it with a dash of syrup. Damn it, there used to be corn syrup here.”

“Right here, Colonel.”

“Thank you, Mr. Bailey. I mix them together and then roll it in a pill, like this. Now you give it her, Caesar.”

Caesar took the sticky pill and stroked the dog for a moment before running his fingers along the bottom of her jaw, where he pressed. The dog opened her mouth wide and Caesar laid the sticky pill on her tongue. It was gone in a single lick, the dog looking back and forth between the people with the weary air of one who has been practiced upon.

“Four times a day until she takes food. I do rather like the notion of bathing a dog in broth, though. Do you find that it answers?”

“They can’t he’p but lick, suh.”

“I learned about the turbith mineral from Lord Fairfax, and there is no man in America knows more about dogs. I long to tell him about bathing a dog in broth. Do both: I wish to see it in action.”

“Yes, suh.”

Washington left the boy to Bailey, and headed for his house.

He read in his library for a while, then looked at his latest drawing for an improved stable, made a change where he thought he could run water straight from the spring with pipes, and thought better of it. He was restless, and he walked through the house as he sometimes did when he couldn’t concentrate his mind. The servants and slaves in the kitchen were surprised by his passage, but pleased at his satisfaction. Other house slaves looked worried when he passed, or were long in bed themselves, according to their tasks.

Washington stopped on the central stairs and found Martha sitting in the blue parlor. “Are you ready for bed, ma’am?”

She lifted her book to him with a smile and went back to reading, a habit he had once found rude and was now used to. The smile, at least, meant she was in good humor. He nodded, almost a bow, and went up. The stair had never satisfied him. It was too narrow, and lacked something in sweep compared to other houses. It dated from a time when Mount Vernon had been considerably smaller. He began to plan a new staircase, trying to picture where he would have the space for a broader sweep.

“Are you going to bed now, sir?” asked his personal slave, Billy.

Washington realized he was standing at the top of the stair, unmoving, and that his hands were cold. He had been there some time.

“I am, Billy. I am.”

“Will you want anything while you undress?”

“I think I’ll have a small brandy, Billy.”

“Very well, sir. I’ll be with you in an instant.”

Before Washington had done more than enter his bedroom and take his watch out of his breeches, Billy was back with a trumpet-shaped glass on a silver tray. His presentation was elegant, indeed, everything about Billy was elegant, and he did it so quietly that Washington seldom heard him coming.

Washington swallowed a third of the contents in a gulp, surprising himself. He smiled. “My thanks on that, Billy. Will you see to my watch case? It’s dull.”

“Yes, sir.” Billy took his coat and handed it to a young boy, who took it away with something like reverence.

“I can get my own boots, Billy.”

“I’m sure you can, sir. But you won’t while I’m here.”

Billy had the softest touch of the slave accent, never enough to make sir into suh, but enough to make his tone husky. He was always softly spoken. Washington sat and allowed Billy to pull off his riding boots, which were handed to the same boy for polishing. Billy left his slippers by the fire. Washington would never submit to anyone putting his slippers on. Washington turned, his aquiline profile strong against the dark outside. He sipped his brandy.

“Anything else, sir?”

“Have you met the new boy, Billy?”

“Which one, sir?”

“The African, Billy. The dogs boy.”

“Cese, sir?”

“That’s him, Billy. Caesar, if you please. What do you think of him?”

“He’s a good boy. Queeny likes him, and that’s somethin’.”

Billy didn’t exactly approve of Queeny, as he was a Christian man and she was easy in her affections. But at another level, they were allies.

“We’ll know what he’s made of when we see him on the hunting field, eh?”

Billy attended Washington even on horseback. They had been together for a long time, and Billy was probably the best black horseman in Virginia. In fact, he was better than most gentlemen, although still not the equal of Washington.

“I think he’ll do fine, sir.”

Washington still seemed in doubt. “I think he’s too…African,” he said, shaking his head. “But he has the makings of a fine young man, I’ll grant you that. Get to bed, Billy.”

The new boy cut quite a figure in his cap and jacket. He had a stick in his hand, almost like a crop, and it seemed to Washington that the stick might be coming it a bit high for a slave, especially if that stick were meant for his dogs.

Washington edged his horse across the drive in the early morning light to the edge of the pack, and watched Caesar separate one of his bitches from one of the visiting Lee hounds with the stick, never a blow, just a firm pressure with the stick and a slap of the hand.

“Where did you buy the dogs boy, sir?” young Henry Lee asked with open admiration. “He’s rather fine.”

Caesar recognized the look and nodded his head to Mr. Lee, leaving Washington uncomfortable again. It was an easy nod—far too easy for a slave, and yet not in any way a breach of etiquette. The nod was of a piece with the stick.

“I had him from a failed plantation in Jamaica, Henry.”

“And I may wish papa will do as well.”

“He does seem singular. That’s a fine mare, Henry.”

“I had him from my uncle at Stratford Hall. Part Arab, they say. I hope so, for the price.” The mare began to circle, and Lee was frustrated by the lack of effect his new silver spurs had on her. He pressed her with his crop and still she turned, her interest divided between worry at the dogs and interest in Washington’s mount, a big bay called Nelson.

“Damn you.” He hit her with his crop.

Washington shook his head. “Not her fault, sir.”

Lee, unused to being checked, looked up, but Washington was already moving away, backing his horse to the open area beyond the hunt. The huntsman, a local tenant, came in and pointed off over the lane to a distant copse, motioning with a long old-fashioned whip. Lee let his horse have her head a moment and then pushed her away from the dogs, where she instantly settled down. Billy, Washington’s constant attendant, trotted easily around Henry Lee and gave Caesar a smile. Then he followed his master.

The pack gave voice, answered thinly by the select pack over the hill. Someone had found a fox. The huntsman gave Caesar the signal, and he released the hounds, his eyes still following the young man his master had rebuked and the elegant black man on horseback. The hounds leapt away, and the hunt began to take shape behind them.

It was the third draw that produced a fox, with the select dogs of the county behind it and the rest of the pack following from reserve. No one had expected the first draw to produce anything; the night had been very windy and the ground was cold. But the fox found in the wood hard against Dogue Run went away at a view by the schoolhouse, crossed the Alexandria road back into Mount Vernon plantation and ran north toward Belvale, the seat of the Johnstons. Just short of the park wall he turned left and ran the whole length of the new-laid brick, but hesitation at the steep banks of the creek cost him a precious moment. He was headed at the wall and killed in the cart shed behind Belvale, the dogs in fine voice and the copper blood and ordure scent over the whole winter morning. Washington was in at the kill, his horse an extension of his will, Billy at his elbow like a standard-bearer, fine in Washington’s red and buff livery. Caesar was never far from the dogs, running from scent to scent, his eyes on the country ahead. Twice he outguessed the select pack and the bitch in the lead, crossing to a new cover before the pack found a new voice, and his prowess did not pass without note.

Belvale Shrubbery was the next draw, and here there were three foxes. The field was tired, and etiquette was slipping; the pack split, with the larger part chasing an older female and the smaller a younger male. The field divided in proportion to the hounds and privately held views on the ethics of the thing. The older hunters chased the larger part of the pack; the younger members followed the younger dogs and chased over more difficult country.

Caesar stayed with his own dogs, which had the first scent, and pursued the old vixen with a will. Other dog runners paced him; an older man with the French family’s hounds flashed him a smile as they ran up to the hounds at a check by Little Hunting Creek.

“You can run, boy!”


“I be John. Fro’ the French place.”

“Why’d the pack split?”

The older man shook his head, flashing a broad smile.

“Hell to pay when the leaders meet, I be thinkin’.”

The pack checked at the edge of the thick cover of the wood and the rising ground toward Cameron Run. Caesar could see the other pack running well to the south, even half a mile away, straight into the wind, their noses up, tails flat out. The younger members of the field were right up on the hounds, some jumping a small hedge and some angling for the gate nearer the river. The Lee boy, the one his master had been harsh to, was riding flat out, his whip striking the horse’s withers, his whole body leaning forward over the horse’s neck.

The dogs were past the check and beginning to run again, and he began to lope after them. John seemed to be waiting for something.

“I’m Caesar, from Mount Vernon.”

“I know, boy. I know.”

Caesar wondered why he was laughing, but he lost the thought in the glory of the run.

Washington watched him follow the hounds past the check, pleased with his purchase and angry at the day. The wind was wrecking the scent; indeed, they had been lucky to draw a fox at all, and the hounds were going to find the going harder and harder. Worse was the defection of the younger set. He thought they had ridden off willfully, and he doubted they’d make a kill. The older men and one woman had held the field on the first kill. They had done all the real work of the thing and now they were deserted for their pains. He disliked that the young people were allowed to go by the rest of the field. He liked people to follow their parts, and the defection savored of rebellion.

He turned in the saddle and rested one hand on his horse’s rump, looking back into the Potomac Valley, but the lesser part of the hunt’s field was gone over a hedge. He watched the last of the younger riders, their forms darkened by the winter light, balk at a stile and ride around.

“This will not do,” he said aloud, as much to himself as to Billy behind him.

He trotted Nelson along the slow rise to the left, his intention to get ahead of the fox and the hunt. Washington always hunted with a military art; he read the ground and tried to outguess his opponent. The Virginian habit of hurling his horse at every obstacle that the hounds crossed had ceased to challenge him years ago.

He led Billy across country toward Rose Hill, and he noted with some surprise that his Caesar had stopped following the hounds and was running ahead of him in great leaps, like a two-legged deer, bounding over the hummocky grass. The wintry sun broke through the clouds for a moment, illuminating the three men and the winter grass around them in a brief blaze of pale gold, the slate of the sky an intimidating contrast that threatened worse weather to come.

The last of the sun’s effort showed both of them the sight of the fox fully in view as she burst from the woods along the creek and turned north across the wind-swept open ground toward Rose Hill, her curious red-green coat gleaming with the sun’s touch. Washington rose in his stirrups and yelled, then sounded a view on his horn. The cry of the hounds changed from puzzlement to pursuit within the wood and the leaders of the pack began to appear, scenting the wind and bounding along. Caesar turned to him and smiled, a personal smile that lit his face, and Washington’s thin lips curled. He saluted slightly, just a wave of the whip in a gesture of acknowledgment, and he gathered the horse under him and was gone, Billy in his wake, but Billy’s smile was broad, almost welcoming, and he gave Caesar a wave.

The open ground gave the field a fine burst of about ten minutes, with plenty of jumping when they came to the Rose Hill fences. But the fox was old and wise, and the wind was rising; she lay still once in a covert, and doubled on her own scent when she ran, almost splitting the pack a second time.

Washington heard the other group blow a mort and knew they had killed, somewhere down in the valley on his own land. His first thought was one of sharpened competition, but he pushed that down as unworthy. Their killing did not make their actions right, and this green-red fox, this ancient vixen, had given the best of the field the kind of hunt men talked about for years—fence after fence, the sighting by the woods when the hounds were at a stand, many a twist, a true champion. He looked back at his field, eleven tired gentlemen and one gentlewoman, and then forward to where the chase had made the cover of the heavy brush at the very bank of the Dogue Run. The hounds gathered about the cover, climbing over one another but held by the tough undergrowth. Washington rode round the pack, the thong of his whip free for the first time in the afternoon. He rode over to the huntsman and William Ramsay, who were sharing a bottle.

“I say we leave her. I think she earned it.”

“Huzzay, then! A well-plucked ‘un.”

“Leave her to have kits.” They all nodded, gave a small cheer, and began to pick their way back toward Mount Vernon, except Daniel French, who was home already. He waved his whip and rode round to his stable.

“He can’t be too happy, knowing you’ve just moved a Vernon fox into the bush behind his henhouse,” said Ramsay, laughing his Scottish laugh.

“’Twas only justice, gentlemen. She gave us good sport. She lives to do it again.”

“Young Lee killed his fox.”

“Young Lee broke the pack. He didn’t follow the right fox.”

“True enough.” Ramsay looked at Washington to see if he was angry, but the man was flowing along, at one with his horse, and the look on his face was one of deep contentment.

The huntsman signaled the boys to call off the dogs. Again, Caesar’s stick stood him in good stead, as he used it deftly to separate dogs and push them back on to the greensward. He tossed tidbits from his haversack, pushing through the dogs until he had the Mount Vernon pack leader by the scruff of the neck and had carried her clear of the pack and off to the grass, where he fed her several bites of bread soaked in molasses until she had her wits about her again. The pack followed her, and Caesar kept them moving away from the covert until they began to calm down and move along with him. The older man, John, had his dogs out of the bush first, and held them with his voice alone, almost crooning to them. He looked around, saw the mounted party riding away, and pushed one young pup across from his group into Caesar’s.

“That un’s yours, John,” Caesar protested.

“An’ you jus’ take him down to Vernon. I come by latuh, pick him up, I don’ miss all the pahty jus’ because Missah French be tired. Right?”

“If’n you say,” Caesar said with some hesitancy.

“I do say. Run ‘long, now.”

Caesar headed down the hill, the little stranger trying to worm his way back to his own pack for a few moments. Caesar prevented him, though not without some fellow feeling; the young dog was alone, and he felt for it. But the Rose Hill pup did not care, for soon enough he ran with the Vernon pack as if born to them.

“It was the fastest chase, gentlemen—a young fox, and a fast one. But we kept him in view, and he never turned, just ran till the hounds had him by the heels.” Lee held his horse through a little curvet, done deliberately to show his horsemanship.

“You split the pack, Mr. Lee.”

“At least I caught a fox.”

“Perhaps we’ll leave you to hunt on your own in the future, then, Mr. Lee. Clearly the company of your elders oppresses you.”

Lee had expected praise, and the dashing of his hopes and his second rebuff in a day from Colonel Washington was more than he could bear. He tried to meet Washington’s eyes and fight, but failed, and his shoulders slumped. His horse felt the change and sidled a little until he curbed her with a vicious jerk at the reins, and then he turned on his dog handler.

“Didn’t you see the pack was split, Hussy?”

The boy stood paralyzed. Lee’s tone held the threat of violence—adolescent humiliation that couldn’t be borne.

“Why did you let the dogs run off, Hussy?”

Washington thought it likely that the master had run off and the dogs boy followed, but it didn’t matter now; the lad was in for a thrashing. Lee never thrashed heavy, anyway; his father had a humane reputation, and the son was thought overfriendly with his blacks.

He saw Lee let the lash fall free from the stock of his whip and then slash with it, a blow quick as the strike of a cat’s claw, and his dogs boy cowered away with blood welling between his fingers where they clutched his face. The other members of the field took pulls on their flasks or headed for the house, distancing themselves from young Lee.

Old John from Rose Hill came running down the long slope from the north. Washington had missed him; he was widely known as the best and most knowledgeable of the dog handlers in the neighborhood, and Washington valued his opinion of young Caesar. But the man had his whole attention fixed on the Stratford Hall boy with a look of hatred.

“Stupid Negra!” John threw himself on the boy, pulling him to the ground and pushing his face in the dirt. The dogs ran in circles, yelping. Most of the white audience had gone, but Lee was poised above the struggling pair, his arm cocked back for another blow with his deadly whip.

Caesar was shocked by the sudden violence, and the more shocked by Old John’s sudden attack on Lee’s slave. Caesar didn’t even know him, except as the slower of the running boys, and one without shoes. John appeared to be beating him savagely, and Lee hovered over them, his mare stepping carefully to avoid treading on the pair.

“Get clear, you bastard!” said Lee, raising the whip again. Washington’s hand seized his wrist and pulled his whip clear of his hand, disarming him so quickly and easily that it looked as if the two men had planned the whole thing.

“Never strike another man’s slave, young Lee.”

Lee looked at him with something like loathing for a moment.

“Come into the house and have a little uncustomed brandy, Master Lee.” Washington spoke in an even tone, as if nothing had happened and he didn’t have Lee’s whip in his hand.

“He’s useless!”

“Come along.” Washington thought of other men he had known whose admonitions he had heard and accepted, or resented in his own youth: Lord Fairfax, General Braddock, his brother Lawrence. All had the touch, the ability to admonish with the most result and least pain. He knew himself cold and distant—perhaps too distant for this sort of thing—but someone had to bring young Lee into line with responsibility, and today God had ordained that he be the gentleman to try.

As they rode away, Caesar could hear his master speaking softly to the violent young man, and then they reached the gravel path and turned into the outbuildings and were gone. John sat up in a moment. Caesar had the dogs under control, his own, the Lee dogs, and the remnants of several other packs and partial packs.

“They gone?”

“Yea, John. They gone.” John was Ebo, through and through. Smart, though, and with a winning smile. The hint of duplicity was pure Ebo, and that he had seen a thousand times. The man winked at him and rose to his feet, dusted his fine black cloth breeches and helped the other boy to his feet. The whip had left a bright mark on his cheek, and a deep cut, but no gash, and the blood was slowing. The boy was weeping through the mud and blood.

“Why’d you hit him, John?”

“Keep that white boy’s whip off’n him, I think. Li’l whip like’n that one, it can take an eye or split you nose.” Caesar was still a little shocked by the violence of it, so different from battle because there was no resisting the hand that held the whip.

“I didn’ huht him none, did I, boy? Jus’ roll roun’ atop him.”

Caesar looked the boy over. He was weeping so hard he couldn’t speak.

“He’ll live.”

“Bettah get you home wi’ they dogs, boy. Get cleah ‘fo Missuh Lee get on you ‘gain.”

The boy nodded, still sobbing.

“Le’s get they dogs settled, see what the black folks get to eat. Massa French say I can be heah to eat.” He winked at Caesar again.

“You done good, boy. I see you have mah pup theyah.” He whistled and the pup betrayed his new allegiance and ran to the older man’s heel.

“You like the hunt, boy?”

“I liked it fine, suh.”

The man laughed. “No one calls a black man suh. Not heah.”

Caesar opened the gate into the kennel yard and shook his head to himself, savoring the moment on the grass when he and the tall master had spotted the fox together. Then he shook his head again, as if embarrassed at his own thoughts.

The wind continued to rise, and it dished the outdoor festivities. The slaves did dance, but it was in the cart shed. Jacka played his fiddle, and played it well, and some of the house servants came. Old John danced with every girl who would have him, smiled on all, ate well, drank better, and took his leave early and with a good grace. Caesar knew the reels that he had learned in the Indies, and the Mount Vernon women took it upon themselves to show him other dances—country dances they learned from the whites, and variations on their own dances, from Africa and from the Indies. Queeny showed him steps he’d seen whites do, the complicated steps and minuets that she made into excuses to show her legs. Food came down from the House. The scraps from the hunt breakfast were scarcely a feast, but they made a change, and Mrs. Bailey passed a ration of meat and some eggs to enrich the supper. It was better than the fish and corn that they ate every day. And the estate’s corn liquor flowed.

The ties that bound the house and field staff and the gulfs that kept them separate were too complex to be taken in at a single social meeting, but Caesar had begun to see them. It was plain to the simplest understanding that Nelly, the house seamstress, was attached to the white servant, Bishop; they fought and simpered in too meaningful a manner. Billy Lee, Washington’s personal slave and the only slave he knew who had a surname, was seldom seen with the other blacks, but he came down for a mug of liquor and Caesar saw instantly that he wasn’t so much aloof as he was a leader. He singled Caesar out.

“You were very good today,” he said.

Caesar warmed to the praise. He would have kept Billy to discuss the field, but Billy was gone, first talking to Queeny and then passing through the others with a word for each.

Caesar had learned that there were other farms, other blacks on them, all satellites of Mount Vernon. The men and women who lived in the Greenhouse and the cabins behind it were the elite: house slaves, trusted hands, skilled men and women. He was lucky to be included, but with his share of the estate’s corn liquor in him, he didn’t feel so lucky. Billy’s praise had cheered him at first, but it soured.

Queeny seemed to dance without a care in the world; Old Tom from the house could jab his pipe at Billy Lee and laugh. The carpenters and the bricklayers were telling tall tales of their activities and their value.

What he resented the most was their proprietary notions. When Old Tom said Mount Vernon was the “fines’ gentleman’s estate on the rivah”, he said it with relish, as if the estate were his own. The house girls were the same. Cook spoke of meals as if she ate them, and the sewing crew were filled with pride at their ability to alter the finest English gowns. It all sickened him because none of it was theirs or ever would be. Every pull from the jug seemed to add to his resentment.

But the hunt had been something, a challenge that he had enjoyed. The fox had never fooled him, and the run had been worth the effort. Caesar was open enough to understand that his triumph at the day’s hunt might be of the same order as that of the sewing crew over an English gown. The thought that he himself was sinking into the same proprietary habit of thought made him sad, because he wasn’t even sure that Washington had noticed his success, and it made him angry and sad that he wanted the master’s praise.

He didn’t realize that he was pounding the doorframe of the carriage house with his hand until it hurt, and there were Queeny’s hands on his arms, and her mouth on his, pulling him into the dark.

“If you jes’ goin’ to get drunk like a fool, I got bettah plans.”

She was wearing stays and a gown that made her waist even smaller than usual; it excited him. She stayed just out of his reach, flitting in to kiss him and away.

“Sho’ you ain’t too drunk?” she taunted.

He swayed drunkenly to mislead her, shifted his weight against the great horse barn’s wall and caught her effortlessly with both hands around her slim waist, lifted her a moment and stepped through the stable door.

“Only the horse boys ‘lowed in heah,” she whispered, but his hand was running up her naked leg under her petticoat and he wasn’t drunk at all, though his mouth tasted of pipe smoke and corn liquor. He settled a saddlecloth under her with a consideration for her best clothes that would never have occurred to most men, and he did it without pausing in his other attentions. A fondness for him entered into her, and then she was lost in other matters.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Pohick Church

The churchyard at Pohick was complete, with a breasthigh brick wall surrounding a graveyard devoid of graves and the four walls of the church proper. Washington sat on his horse in the winter rain and contemplated the empty churchyard and the costs of ambition; the coveted post of warden had cost him a hefty subscription to an Anglican church to which he felt only social allegiance. All the first men of the county attended the Upper Church. Most of their business was transacted in the yard after sermon, and the vestrymen and wardens had a certain advantage, as if they were “to home” and the others visiting. In Virginia, the sacerdotal meaning of the positions was scarcely spoken of in the community.

He didn’t fancy deep enquiry about the state of his soul. It sufficed him that he did good works for his peers and subordinates, that every man called him generous and that even his slaves remembered that he had treated them by hand when the pox hit his plantations. He didn’t enjoy the sort of searching often pushed by Reverend Massey; he wasn’t really sure that an afterlife existed, or that it was important that one should search. He had felt from his youngest days that such things were beyond his control, and lay in God’s hands, and he believed in God as he believed in the king and the empire. A pre-eminent spirit controlled all, as he controlled his plantation and his tenants controlled their farms, all the way down to the dogs boy controlling the dogs, all the way up to the burgesses and parliament and the king…and God.

Wolfe had been devoted to Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” which Washington had looked at without a spark of interest. It remained a title to him, but he looked at his own red-earthed country churchyard and wondered if Gray had seen the same things he saw: the value of the building, at 579 pounds Virginia currency; the bricklayer’s time and the value of the land; the work to “view and examine” as the wardens were enjoined. Washington doubted that a poet saw the value of things, or the work that built them.

By some freak association, his thoughts went from the churchyard to Townshend, who had loathed Wolfe and still did. If Wolfe had won Quebec by luck, where was the justice in providence? It was the one aspect of war that had sickened him above all others—that neither courage nor hard work were necessarily rewarded or justly served by the results. Braddock’s expedition could be smashed and Forbes’s succeed, despite their relative merits; and while he strove with all his might to succeed, James Wolfe took Quebec by luck.

Farming did not work in such a way. Farming required planning and work, acceptance of occasional defeat…but the farmer who worked would be repaid in time. War should repay work and interest, like farming. It was a matter of reducing it to principles, but it was unlikely that he would ever be called upon to do so again. The thought left him a little sorry, but the rain was beginning to go through his greatcoat, and he turned his horse’s head and trotted toward Truro Church, with time in hand to dry off when he arrived.

Pompey, behind him on a pale nag, was soaked through and cold. He was missing the Reverend Cleve, who was speaking to the slaves at Mount Vernon. He only came one week in five, and Pompey was always sorry to miss the event, as he held his soul dear.

Reverend Cleve was a wholly new experience for Caesar—a black minister, and a free man. He spoke beautifully, as Caesar himself hoped to speak. His clear diction rolled through the cart shed, and his challenges brought out the strongest responses in his congregation. His sermon was simple and direct, and on a theme calculated to appeal most strongly to his listeners: that salvation would come for the worthy, regardless of color or station; that God’s house had many doors, and that all of them were open. He never went so far as to say that worldly freedom was unimportant, but his listeners were able to note that eternity would outlast life, and freedom and grace defeat bondage in their own souls’ lives.

Caesar was a baptized man, brought to Christ’s Table when fresh from Africa and newly enslaved, but no part of the religion had moved him like the preaching he heard from the Reverend Cleve. He raised his voice in response, affirming his loyalty to Jesus.

Neither his glass of rum at the dance nor his frequent tumbles with Queeny troubled him. Later in the sermon, when both acts were denounced by the minister, Caesar felt some surprise that the gentle, new-light Jesus had time for such small stuff, but he responded that he would not do such things again. He meant it, at the moment the words were spoken. And when they reached the responses in the creed, he tried to form his responses exactly as the Reverend Cleve had spoken them, syllable by syllable. He heard his own voice speaking the words so well, above the cart-shed din, and he knew he could do it always, if he practiced.

Because, though an eternity of heavenly bliss appealed to him, he still wanted freedom while on the earth.

At Truro church, Reverend Massey droned on toward the completion of his sermon, the attention of most of his congregation taken up in the recurrent thunder and worries about their horses or shays outside. His theme had been warm enough, and well taken at the outset, but only the parish’s philosophers were still on the scent with the minister’s theological pack as they finally began to pull down their ethereal fox.

Washington was elsewhere, his mind making an orderly survey of the new black children and how best to house them, the question of drainage in a new field on the upper parts of Dogue Run, the health of Old Blue and whether the African boy was all he seemed with the dogs, and most of all his stepson’s coming marriage and its consequences, which were great enough, for all love.

Marriage with the Calverts of Baltimore was pleasant enough, and the girl seemed comely and proper, although a certain element of papishness clung to the family. Jack liked her out of all mind, had neglected his expensive studies at Columbia, and wouldn’t be satisfied until he had her, so have her he would. Martha was insistent. In this, she reminded him too much of his own mother, and made him writhe, but there was nothing for it.

Providentially, the event was planned for Mount Airy; nothing he had to do but get on a horse and cross at the ferry. The effect on the estates would be negligible as long as everyone understood the precautions he had taken, and should his wife’s son, Jack Custis, decide to build himself a manor house, he now had the means to support one. Washington had worked hard on the Custis estate, which was really his wife’s and would now be Jack’s. It pleased him that Jack was now going to enjoy the work, but Washington hoped he didn’t enjoy it so much that he took either to spending his capital by selling lands or interfering with the excellent managers that Washington had installed.

He could tell by Massey’s tone of voice that the end of the sermon was near, and he began to cast his mind toward his Maker in the sort of symbolic prayer the Masons taught. That was more real to him than all the talk. He thanked his Maker for the favor of the making and the providence that made him what he was, and turned by the congruence of names and ideas to look at his friend George Mason, who was nodding like a musician at someone else’s concert. George probably had a point he wanted to dispute. Then he felt Washington’s attention, turned, and gave him a significant look, and a long one. Washington had no idea what it meant, but it almost caused him to miss the closing words and the signal to rise.

The closing, the admonition to go with God to love and serve him, a spartan procession, not like the papist affairs in some Anglican churches, a moment of silence, and he was walking in the yard, the rain past, with George Mason, who clearly had something urgent to communicate. They walked a distance from the others.

“Boston has spoiled the East India tea.”

Washington looked at him, fumbling for words and understanding simultaneously.

“A group of men thinly disguised as Indians went on board the Indiamen and threw the tea in the harbor rather than pay the tea tax.”

Washington tapped the church wall with his crop.

“Idle fellows? Or a decision taken by the gentlemen of the town?”

“Not known.”

“I…I don’t think it was well done.”

“Would you have us submit to the tax?”

“Is the tax so illegal, Mr. Mason?”

“It is an external tax. We have resisted Parliament’s attempts to impose such up till now.”

“I mislike…I very much mislike the notion that men can take such an act against property into their own hands.”

“So must all propertied men.”

“And I fear that the Government’s reaction will be strong. We must await events.”

But Mason’s eyes burned with the evangelical zeal of the true believer.

“You still avoid English goods?”

“Within bounds. I bought a pianoforte, I must confess.”

“Oh, that’s nothing. It is the daily stuff we must learn to do without if we are to break this legislation.”

Washington looked away. His lack of response had disappointed his friend, and his friend’s dejection at the reception of his news was spreading. Washington found prating about the injuries of the colonies rather like searching his soul; it didn’t accomplish very much.

“This is, what, the fourth time we’ve embargoed goods?”

“It works well enough, if all comply.”

Washington winced slightly. In the earliest embargoes, he had consistently misunderstood the complex system by which the embargo of some goods “supported” the prohibition on “taxed” goods. But the picture of property destroyed by a mob did not please him at all, and it roused him to speech.

“I still fail to see how cheaper India tea makes us slaves. I see how it harms the interests of the Boston smugglers, and this morning I resent such merchants raising a mob to destroy property—it could as easily be my tobacco or my wheat. Doubtless, my friend, you will lead me to see the error of my ways another day. Today, I see the cost of Pohick Church rise before me beside the cost of Jack’s wedding, and I think that our troubles with England can wait until my crops are in the ground and spring is here.”

“You’ve other business, sir, and I will not detain you. The news is not so ominous, I allow, but the reaction of the Government to this check is likely to affect us all.”

Washington shook his head solemnly. Other men had gathered to hear the last of the exchange—men with greater debts in England, men with more love, or less, for the mother country—and in a moment the yard was abuzz with it. Washington left Mason retelling the dumping of the tea, motioned to Pompey for his horse, and looked at his watch. Slow.

“Care to pass me the time?” he said, bowing to the elder Mr. French, watch in hand.

“Your servant, sir. Hmm, a quarter past twelve.”

Washington opened the face of his watch and put an elegant gold key to the fuzee, and then to the hands. French caught the engraving on the key and smiled, closed his case with a sharp snap, and bowed; Washington eased his over the catch to save wear, but his bow was just as neat.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Bought that brig, did you?”

“I hadn’t much choice. I took her in lieu of a debt, you know.”

“Good buy, though. Will you send a cargo north, do ya think?”

“I may. First the Indies with my flour.”

“If she goes north, I’d be happy to help make a cargo.”

“Thankee. That’s something to think on. Good day to you, sir.”


He rose from the bow and turned to find his horse to hand, mounted in one athletic movement, nodded to Pompey, and was gone before the next rain cloud opened.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Washington's Library, Mt. Vernon

Washington’s library had a more martial character than its master admitted, these days. Charles XII of Sweden, Voltaire’s beau ideal, gazed angrily down from a column that faced his ideological child, Frederick the Great of Prussia. Julius Caesar and Alexander locked gazes in the other corner, an unceasing contest between youth (Alexander and Charles) and age (Caesar and Frederick). Or sometimes the masters of war divided other ways, classical versus modern.

The other furnishings of the room were to the latest taste, if a bit much by native English standards—drapes a little too plum, carpets a little too bright. All together, it was the room of a man of immense wealth, and the books that lined the shelves catalogued all his interests. A 1740 Humphrey Bland on military exercise, as well as a new subscription copy of Stevenson’s Advice to Officers in Command of Detachments, and a shelf of manuals of arms, directions on fortification with plates or without, Muller on artillery. The owner of the library had the most complete interest in war to be found in a library in Virginia.

Farming filled other shelves. The foundation of the collection had come with his wife, being her former husband’s books on the subject. He added to the collection every year, books such as Duhamel’s Practical Treatise of Husbandry and Young’s Annals of Agriculture, Thomas Fairfax on sports and dogs and the preservation of game, Tull on the new English plowing, The Farmer his own Mechanic, and dozens of other titles. The newest were newer than the military volumes, and on the whole more plentiful.

Sport for the sake of sport had its place as well: fishing, shooting, riding and keeping horses. There weren’t many of the classics: some schoolbooks, an uncut Ovid, a muchthumbed Epictetus in English and Latin—much thumbed because the owner knew that Frederick the Great had a copy and praised it. Washington liked Epictetus, because he had been a slave and spoke well of it. When Washington spoke to a slave, he tried to remember the precepts that Epictetus laid down. There was also Homer in translation by Pope—all the volumes save one, which his stepson, Jack, had lost while still in school and never replaced.

They were well kept and their leather gleamed with solid worth; their master read most of them, whether to farm or make war. He had been a soldier, and now he was a farmer—head bent over a careful drawing of a drainage canal in the Great Dismal Swamp as he laboriously traced out his plans for further drainage. The Great Dismal was a watery fortress built by nature on the south coast of Virginia to keep farmers at bay. It would take more slaves, more effort, and more money to drain the swamp and till the ground, but the result would be thousands of acres of prime farmland reclaimed from the wilderness right on the coast, where cargoes would fetch the best price. The plan had started almost ten years before; it had never quite succeeded or failed, and its demands seemed to increase every year, no matter how much effort the original investors expended.

He was a farmer, and yet he planned his assault for the year on the Great Dismal like a soldier: considering each drainage ditch an approach sap on nature’s fortress swamp; marshalling the forces of slaves and pressed labor available to the investors; planning against the day when the scheme would turn a profit and the siege would end.

He was a farmer, and all his thoughts were on the coming planting, on drainage and foaling, water tables and wheat prices, and the extent of the herring run, and yet none of his heroes had ever excelled as farmers. They had all been soldiers, soldiers of the type that won their fame for the glory of their arms and not for the kingdoms that they built; indeed, Charles, Alexander and Frederick shared a failure to build very much at all. But they were his chosen companions in his library, as his pen gradually worked its way into the defenses built by nature to keep the European farms at bay in the Great Dismal Swamp, where ten years of labor had yet to yield a single crop. He looked at his new network of ditches without confidence, laid his pen carefully in a ready holder to avoid inking the map, scattered some sand on it, and rose.

A house slave appeared instantly, looking expectant, but Washington waved him away.

“I’m going out to the dogs, Jack.”

“Yes, suh.”

“Build up the fire, if you please.”

“Yes, suh.”

He walked out through the library hall and around the drive to the kitchen, nodding courteously to the cook, the maid, and the little black girl who helped with the kitchen and was clearly terrified by his appearance so late at night. He paused for a moment and looked at the stars, missing the child streaking by him down toward the deer park, bound for the kennel to warn the young man there that Master was headed that way, so that he was pleasantly surprised to find Caesar up, with a small rushlight in the kennel, sitting with Old Blue.

“She still in a bad way, Caesar?”

“She bin bettah…better, sir.”

Her coat was not as dull as it had been, though, he noted, and she had her head in the boy’s lap, looking at him with some interest.

“She eating?”

“Eats a little, if’n I feed it to her slow.”

“She’s a good dog—used to be the best in the pack.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’d like to shoot tomorrow.”

“How many dogs, sir?”

“Just a pair. You work hard on your speech, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

Washington smiled, though the subject didn’t really please him very much. He had worked hard to sound English when he joined Braddock’s staff; Lord Fairfax had helped him lose the provincial speech that might have marked him. Slaves who spoke too well, though—that was another matter.

“You did a very good job on the hunt. Here’s a crown. That’s a quarter of an English pound. Spend it wisely.”

Delighted smile, deep bow, genuine admiration. “Thank you, suh! Thank you, sir.” The black face beamed with pleasure and willingness to please, but Washington noticed that in his flurry of spirits, Caesar’s pronunciation had slipped, which was to be expected.

“But I desire you to take care, Caesar. You can be overfamiliar. Do you understand me?”

“No, sir.” The light went out. Washington had never been good at admonition; he was too cold, and it always came out as criticism without leniency. It had hurt him with his regiment.

“You should not smile at me, or at Mr. Lee, as if we were your familiar friends.”

The boy looked hurt and confused. He’d recover.

“Talk to Queeny, boy. Tell her what I said. Both things. You are a good hunter, and you can have a good life here. But you must know your place.”

“Yes, sir.”

Washington thought of clasping his shoulder, but he didn’t. A slave should not need comforting when the Master had spoken to him. Washington tried to regulate his slaves in the tradition of the ancients. His firmness would not have offended Epictetus, he was sure.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

John Parke Custis ("Jacky") (1754 - 1781) & Martha Parke Custis ("Patsy") (1756 - 1773)

“Coward! Drunkard! That he would dare…”

Washington’s voice trailed off as he realized that his angry words had been audible throughout the house and that the girl who had been tending the fire was now cowering in the corner. He colored in embarrassment, and within a moment Martha appeared from the back stairs and their own apartment just above, her pretty face a picture of concern.

“Hush there, husband. You’ll wake the neighborhood.”

He all but stuttered his apology; it shamed him to be so uncontrolled in front of his wife. His hand was still clenching the letter and his knuckles were white. He opened his hand as he realized how he must look, and the letter fell free to the desk.

“I think you should tell me, my dear.”

“Nothing. I was a fool. Apologies.”

“Nonsense, my dear. No one shouts in that manner at half past ten on a winter’s night unless moved beyond the capacity of the human frame to resist.”

Portraits never did her justice; she was uncommonly pretty, even now, a little thing with an elegant carriage and a firmness of purpose. He could dislike her when she was an overprotective copy of his own mother, but when she was like this, she was the woman he wanted, his partner.

“Do you recall my mentioning George Muse?”

“He admitted to cowardice at Fort Necessity, I believe. I expected to hear his name—we don’t number so many cowards among our acquaintance.” She smiled.

Her turn of phrase, so much wittier than he could manage, made him smile through his anger, as she had known it would, and he saw her relax as if she had expected more difficulty. It struck him that she was handling his temper, that he was being managed and that he could resent it but didn’t. He knew in that moment that he had shouted the words to get her to come to him. And she had come.

“He has had the effrontery to send me a perfectly odious letter, suggesting that my interest in the veterans’ grants in Ohio is all self-interest—that I have attempted to cheat him and others of my former officers. Utter rot. It sticks in my craw, madam.”

She turned her head slightly, at the pistols in the case on the desk.

“Washingtons don’t fight Muses, my dear.”

He looked confused for a moment. Then he saw it. She thought the cleaning of the pistols went with the letter.

“I won’t fight him unless he calls me. But I’ll write him such a letter, and make my feelings plain. To bear such an affront is beyond me. I’m speechless.”

“You are not, dear. Come to bed.”

“I think I will read, madam, if only for a bit.”

“I’ll wait for you, then.”

She came and kissed him, a social kiss, and his temper cooled some, but just the sight of the letter on his desk made his pulse race again.

The room was cold, despite the fire, and the girl hadn’t really done much but stir the coals and add logs that hadn’t caught. He crossed the room in front of his desk and pushed the logs around until they made a blaze, smiled to think of Martha and her wit, and went to his wall of books, looking for an old friend to calm his mind. He knew that George Mason and other more learned men turned to the ancients in moments such as these. He’d never really learned his Latin and now he regretted it, because they were farmers as well as soldiers.

Another packet on his desk brushed at his attention, and with deep pleasure he withdrew careful drawings of a plow from England, with a letter from a scientific farmer there. The letter and close consultation on the plow eased him out of the worst of his temper; fifteen minutes’ study required to understand the harness and he was quite ready to face her again, and bed.

It was a troubling time. He woke with the specter of Muse’s letter in his mind, and it stayed with him as he was shaved and had his hair prepared by his valet. It left him sharp all day although it couldn’t contend with the cares of the estate. He was up with the dawn, and an hour later ahorse with nothing but a cup of chocolate in him, riding down the lane to see his farms with a small staff of men behind him: two slaves, Bailey, and a secretary. All the men were working. Washington noted with surly pleasure that the herring nets were out on two farms, and the work of repair and restoration going along smartly. He handled the English-made linen twine himself; experiment had shown that there was no substitute for it, despite the relative expense and the trouble of keeping it stocked. Prices for herring were falling, but the fishery provided a reliable cash crop that cost him nothing but net repair and the labor of slaves. If no one bought the fish, he could feed all his farms on them for the whole year, although that might require more clay for jars. He jotted a note in his daybook.

Twice he met neighbors on the road. Both made sure to congratulate him on Jack’s marriage, and both asked if he would hunt the next day, or if preparations for the wedding would keep him away. He smiled at both and gave nothing away, although most of his acquaintance knew he felt ill-used in the matter. He did the civil thing, and assured both gentlemen that he would indeed hunt, and that his dogs (the best dogs in the county, except perhaps the Fairfax pack) would be at their service. Both men commended him on the slave Caesar. This didn’t entirely please him. Something about the boy irritated him; he did not wish to be unfair, and that annoyed him the more.

Caesar worked with a will, washing every dog in the pack, even the gun dogs that would spend the next morning at home. He was not in his fine clothes; he was dressed in a pair of cast-off breeches and an evil cotton shirt of a weave so coarse that he could feel the sun right through it on his back.

Old Blue was better—there couldn’t be much doubt of that, although whether the mineral or the broth baths or her own animal constitution saved her was open to question. He washed her and scratched her head; of all the dogs, he now knew her the best. He wondered if she’d take the pack from the temporary leader now that she was back—whether they’d fight (not likely) or if some hidden signal of speech would pass between them, like him and Pompey, where the fight was just the symbol of the thing.

When the dogs were clean, he changed their straw, mucked out the kennel until it was as clean as Queeny’s cabin, swept the front of the building, and put water out for all the dogs. He was just yoking up a second pair of buckets in the yard by the stables when the Master came riding down the road between the overseer’s house and the new dung pit. Most of the slaves went right on with their tasks, which was odd to Caesar. In Jamaica, they would all have stood and tugged their forelocks until the Master passed. But this was a freer place, so he raised his face and smiled before realizing that he had been warned against just such, by both white and black. It caused an odd spasm to cross his face, which stopped his master in his tracks.

“Bailey, find out what Julius Caesar means by that long face of his.”

“Stop there, boy.”

Caesar stood in confusion, knowing he was in the wrong but resentful, as well. He was only seeking to please, even if that thought didn’t sit well. He kept his buckets on the yoke and his head down. This generally worked in Jamaica.

“I saw that look, Caesar. What did you mean by it?” Bailey sounded more concerned than angry. He was reputed a fair man among the blacks, not like some awkward bastards they all knew.

A few seconds gave Caesar all the time he needed.

“Yoke bit mah shouldah, suh.” He raised his eyes for a moment, then back down. “I did’n mean no ha’m.”

Queeny had ordered him to stop speaking his “new way”. It didn’t please him, and he practiced in secret, both the language of his master and the language of the pulpit. But it seemed to work on Bailey, who was more relaxed with him when he spoke like the rest of the men.

Bailey rode back to Washington. “I think he had a spasm, sir.”

Washington watched the boy hike his buckets again as if seeking comfort, and a little water trickled out of each and ran off into the dust.

“I cannot abide rebellion, Mr. Bailey. But I’ll let this pass.”

Bailey could only put it down to temper. His employer never watched the blacks like some white men Bailey had known, and there was little rebellion to be found at Mount Vernon. Bailey suspected that most slaves were as smart as he—smart enough to know that they would not be as comfortable anywhere else if they were sold from Mount Vernon. The African boy was no more a rebel than the others, but the big man on the horse was in a foul temper, and he didn’t seem to like the dogs boy at the best of times. Bailey wondered why. The boy was quite clearly gifted, and everyone else on the farm knew it.

Martha Custis, as she was then, had two children by Jack Custis before he died and she became Mrs. Washington. He loved them both, though Patsy had been frail and Jack was the very model of a wild rich boy. As Jacky got older and more spoiled by his mother, his demands on his estates grew larger, until Washington had separated them off from the other Custis and Washington holdings so that Jack could only affect his own. But this separation had been on paper only, and the final books that would allow a grown-up and married Jack Custis the full enjoyment of his own estates were a difficult and unrewarding task. Washington didn’t resent the loss of revenue. It was nothing as simple as that. He had enjoyed commanding one of the largest sets of estates in Virginia, and he would miss many of the useful details from Jack’s land. Among other details, Jack had the best farrier in Virginia, and now Washington would have to pay to use him.

He sought to repair his acreage in the Ohio country, where the grants to veterans of the last war would give him something like a hundred thousand acres of new land, beautiful land with big trees and fresh soil. He wanted to farm on that sort of scale, and he sometimes dreamed about what the Ohio might be like in his old age, if he got to put his schemes into production.

Selling off Martha’s other child’s estates was also trouble. Patsy’s death had upset Martha very much—so much, indeed, that she was just recovering. Patsy had always been a sickly child and no one who knew her well had expected a long life for her, but as she reached her teens and continued to dance and read, the Washingtons had begun to imagine that she might live a normal life, marry and have children of her own.

Selling her shares of stock in London would clear the very last of his debts, but the details seemed to drag, and he sat with his pen scratching carefully away on the business of his farms and his livelihood while he could hear the real life of his estate going on behind him—horses being led out and walked, sheep being fed, chickens, and then the distant music of his hounds. The boy was feeding them.

He got up and walked out, his anger rising from a small curiosity to a rage before he reached the kennel. The boy was rolling balls of bread and soaking them in broth, then throwing them to each hound by name. It was a curious ritual, and not the way he did the feedings himself. It neither slowed his anger nor increased it. It was a subject for another day.

“Caesar! I told you to call me every day before the dogs were fed.”

Caesar fairly leapt in the air at the sound of his name, and his sudden tension threw the dogs into confusion. They sensed their master’s anger and the boy’s worry, and some barked. Others milled, biting each other. Caesar recovered and moved slowly, trying for calm. Washington had to look at the scars over his eyes.

“Sorry, suh.”

“Is that all, boy? You are sorry?”

Bailey was hurrying out from the overseer’s house, his coat off, clearly torn from his supper. Someone had seen the Master headed for the kennel and called him out. Washington resented this as an intrusion.

“Caesar, did you forget, or were you deliberately sullen? Answer me, boy.”

The slave looked up to him slowly, and his eyes were a little hard—not reproachful or hurt, as might be expected from an innocent slave, nor wary or deceitful, either. Washington was a good judge of men, and this one was hard to read. The eyes held his for one flash, then were cast down.

“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t do it on purpose.” The sentences were delivered like a verdict; the enunciation was strong and crisp.

Bailey wiped some crumbs from his chin but stayed mute, waiting for the explosion, worried that the enunciation might be read as rebellion.

Washington waited with the rest of them, balanced on the sword’s point of his own conflicting feelings of anger and fairness, until fairness won out. The boy had done nothing. If called, he would not have come to the feeding. His business held him, and he was still angry at Muse’s letter, at his stepson’s stubbornness in marrying a Maryland papist without reflection, at the loss of prestige involved in Jack’s estates. It was a witch’s brew of discontent and no mistake; he was fair enough a man to know that the black boy had little to do with it.

The boy’s way of speaking was another matter entirely, but like his careful feeding of the dogs, it needed to be dealt with another time. The boy was arrogant; arrogance had no place in a slave, a point he had made to Bailey countless times.

“Look at me, Julius Caesar.” His voice was calm, and as he hoped, the eyes that met his were not hard or rebellious, but concerned now.

“Always call me before the dogs are fed.”

“I won’t forget again, suh.”

Washington shook his head, smiled very slightly, made a small bow to Bailey, and went inside. Bailey stopped a moment longer.

“For God’s sake, call him next time. Or you’ll be the worse for it, young Caesar. I can’t be plainer than that.” He tried to project a number of pieces of information through those sentences, because he worried about fairness at times. But his dinner was waiting, and his wife. His wife often chided him about slaves. “Catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” she said, meaning that a little conversation was often better than punishment. But he lacked the knack of it. She always carried herself above the blacks but spoke to them all the time; he couldn’t do it.

He wanted to warn the boy, but he couldn’t find any words that wouldn’t betray his own notions of loyalty to the Colonel. So he stood for a moment, a short man in his smallclothes with a napkin tied under his chin, leaning on the rail of the kennel. And when nothing came, he simply nodded to the boy, and went back to his dinner, his spirits lowered.

The next morning dawned with more bad news. His party of indentures and Palatine Germans going to open the farms in his new land in the Ohio was held up by the incompetence of his agent in the matter, and as was all too often the case, only his own intervention could solve the matter. He rode to Alexandria through a light rain and back through a heavier, and the chance to hunt was long washed away by the time he had his riding horse back at the beautiful brick barn at Mount Vernon.

The next day, Washington took a party of his family and two grooms and set out on horseback to reach Mount Airy, the Calvert main estate in Maryland. An encounter with a discourteous ferryman showed him that his temper hadn’t improved, but by the time he arrived he was calm, and the ceremony was simple, moving, and unmistakably Anglican. Moreover, young Nelly showed every sign of utter devotion to Jack, which commended her in Washington’s eyes. He smiled at them both, reconsidered his position a little, and stayed on for the wedding breakfast the next morning, although he’d only packed the one shirt. Lund laughed at him, as well he might. Everyone at Mount Vernon had heard him mutter about the wedding for weeks, and now he had enjoyed it, rather as Martha had predicted.

The wedding of Master Jack, even at some distance over in Maryland, was a cause for celebration on the estate. Master Jack, although given to high spirits, was popular with the slaves and known to be free with praise and money. On the day of his wedding, Martha gave Mr. Bailey permission to serve out ham and some good rum to the estate’s slaves and servants, and they cleared the drying floor in a tobacco barn for a dance floor.

Caesar hadn’t recovered from Washington’s admonition about being “too familiar.” He thought about it, over and over, trying to see the right of it. He couldn’t bring himself to cringe, but he noticed that Queeny didn’t cringe, either. She was just careful. Always careful. He would try to model himself more on her behavior.

Despite his misgivings, he enjoyed the dance with something like content. He was growing stronger and faster, because the food was better than anything in Jamaica and the life was so easy by comparison. His hands were clean, his clothes were good, and now he had several new shirts and different waistcoats and jackets for different days. He even enjoyed the respect of most of the other men at Mount Vernon. The white servants were polite to him, even respectful. None of them seemed to think he was over familiar.

He watched Nelly dance with one of the white servants. Was she over familiar?

“There you ah’, thinkin’ them dahk thoughts again. Come dance wi’ me an’ show a little smile.” Queeny reached out and pulled him to his feet. He walked with her out to the floor and she took him boldly to the top of the set, so that they would be head couple.

“Hole in the wall,” said one of the fiddlers. Queeny nodded in time to the first bars of the music, and Caesar took a moment to see how beautiful she was, and how happy, living in the moment. Then they turned away from each other and headed down the set, the two of them in perfect time. When they met again he turned her, not by one hand like a proper gentleman, but with an arm locked around her waist so that his lips were at her ear.

“I think I should marry you, Queeny.”

Her smile lit her face, and then the dance took them apart.

The mountain of business that awaited Washington when he returned to Mount Vernon might have prompted a rebellion of spirit in a lesser man. Jack Custis’s wedding required a final pile of paper to be cleared, although it seemed obvious that he would reside at Mount Vernon with his new wife for a while. Gibson’s accounts had to be cleared, and the problems of shipping goods and grain dealt with. He looked over his accounts, wondering why he had bought the brig and where it might make a profit.

He heard the gentle rustle of Martha’s gown as she paused in the door to his study and he looked up. She shook her head and frowned, very slightly.

“I wish you found my son’s wedding as interesting as you find his accounts,” she said.

“The best gift I can give Jack is a clean bill and unencumbered estates.” Washington waved his pen at the ledger next to him, as if the book held all Jack’s fields and houses within leather covers. They locked eyes for a moment.

“We have guests, George. Come be hospitable and leave the books for a bit.”

It was something he enjoyed, the process of management. He liked building the tools that allowed him to do the jobs that ran the estates, watching the careful plans of years come slowly to fruition. He considered a protest. There was more to be done. In fact, there was always more to be done. Between them, he and Martha and Jack owned a great deal and were likely to own more. But as always, Martha was more in the right, and he bowed in his chair, wiped his pen and rose to join her.

Several of their guests talked about George Muse and his notions of fairness, and while George Mason speculated on the Crown’s reaction to the dumping of tea for the thirtieth time that winter, Washington writhed at their comments. As soon as he could free himself, he settled himself to write the strong letter he had promised.

As he wrote the draft, his pen flew along, the strokes as powerful as sword thrusts.

As I am not accustomed to receive such from any man, nor would have taken the same language from you personally, without letting you feel some marks of my resentment; I would advise you to be cautious of writing me a second of the same tenor, for though I understand you were drunk when you did it, yet give me leave to tell you that drunkenness is not an excuse for rudeness…

He paused, licked the tip of his pen and failed even to note the taste, but dipped and wrote on, fueled by anger.

…all my concern is that I ever engaged in behalf of so ungrateful and dirty a fellow as you are.

Hugh Mercer, late in the library because he couldn’t sleep, committed the unpardonable offense of reading it over his host’s shoulder, because his strong eyes had caught the phrase about “dirty a fellow” from the shelves.

“No, please feel free,” said Washington with a hint of stiffness, when he realized that the doctor was reading the letter on the table.

“Damn, sir. My apologies. I should never…”

“Nonsense, sir. I welcome your opinion. You must know to whom it is addressed.”

“I assume it is to that whelp Muse.”

“It is.”

Thus invited, Mercer read what was offered him. The lengthy justification of the process by which officers’ land claims were settled was worded awkwardly, but it made sense and it utterly dished the arguments Muse was making in public. But the personal attack at the end was a shock, the more so from such an old stoic as Washington.

“But it is the most deliberate provocation, George.” Mercer had known Washington for a long time. He was in his lodge, though he didn’t use his first name without a little hesitation. This was serious—pistols-in-the-morning and Martha-a-widow serious.

“He’s a coward. He won’t fight.”

Mercer looked at Washington amazed that so mature and noble a man could see the world in such a schoolyard manner, could base his expectations of men’s actions on such simple stuff.

“He’ll fight if you drive him to it, coward or not. Would you fight his like, sir? He’s a rascal, I’ll own, but the entire world knows it. You’ll lose nothing—”

“That is not the matter to hand, sir. He has said things, monstrous things, of me and my intentions on these land grants. I won’t stand it; I’ll not be called names by this coward.”

Washington’s voice was calm but his hand almost trembled with indignation. Mercer couldn’t remember when he had himself last been so indignant, although he thought he might have approached it when the Townshend Acts were announced. To be so enraged by some fool’s tattle—but Washington had ever been a proud, noli me tangere sort of fellow, and allowances had to be made.

“I don’t want to pull a bullet out of you. You are too important to us for that, George.”

The comment went right to him, the sort of flattery Washington liked, but the anger was still present. He folded the letter.

“Just a draft. Perhaps I’ll cool off by tomorrow.”

And with that, Mercer had to be content.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

George Mason (1725 - 1792)

It was really too late in the season for a hunt, with the wheat and the tobacco in the ground, but Washington wanted the pack out one more time and his neighbors joined in happily enough despite the business of the time. Even George Mason, the most bookish of the men in the parish, was to be seen approaching, though to be sure, his clothes suggested more of the scholar than the huntsman, and he had gaiters on, not boots. Washington watched him ride, and smiled at the way his head rose and fell with the horse’s stride like a cock crossing the yard. Not exactly a natural horseman.

They had fewer dogs than usual: just Washington’s pack and French’s, because the chance of a decent fox was low, and because Cedar Grove was not represented in the field today and none of the Cedar Grove people seemed disposed to offer hounds. Washington knew why, but his neighbor’s relative financial troubles didn’t matter to him, except that he would eventually be asked to help them and he would. It was certainly nothing he would think to discuss. And young Lee had insisted on joining the small hunt, despite the fact that he would be the only young sprig in it. Washington watched him with remote tolerance. The boy was already better behaved than he had been on that distant December morning.

Beyond young Lee was Caesar, helping French’s John sort the dogs and send the select pack with the huntsman. He was good, and Washington knew it—knew with satisfaction that several neighbors envied him his luck in finding the boy. He’d won a footrace at a fair, and a small purse with it, and more for his master in wagers than he had cost in Jamaica. But Washington couldn’t warm to him, or to the Ashanti airs that the boy seemed to have. Too arrogant by half, and his habit of standing with a hand on his hip like a classical statue irked him, as he must have learned it on the plantation. He never liked to see the scars above the eyes that seemed to deny any possibility of civilization in the boy. Washington winced inwardly at his unfairness, as he had never minded scars on Indians, but then, he was used to seeing Indians in their own deep woods, not on his plantation.

The boy was above himself. It went against the order of things. Why couldn’t the boy smile like other blacks when he was addressed? Why did he so seldom laugh?

Mason rode past the estate wall and up the drive, head still bobbing, and as he approached Washington, the latter’s worst fears were confirmed. Mason wasn’t here to hunt at all. He was ready to travel. Washington was a burgess as much as Mason, but he was holding his return to Williamsburg and the cares of government back a day to enjoy his farms; he knew that Mason would intrude some bill, and despite his warmth for the man, resentment mounted before Mason had closed the distance.

“Scarcely dressed to hunt, Mr. Mason?”

“Colonel, good day. Mr. Lee, Mr. French. Servant, ma’am. Gentlemen, I rode directly to inform you that Government has ordered the closure of the Port of Boston.”

Mercer, dismounted near the house and struggling with a new and complex cavalry-style girth, missed the gist and almost lost his saddle trying to get it from Mrs. French. The others murmured, but Washington struck his saddle viciously with his whip, enough to make Nelson, usually the calmest of horses, start. Washington soothed him, annoyed at his own burst of temper, but such news put the whole party out of sorts. It had been hard enough to gather them, and the closure of the Port of Boston was a direct attack on the liberties of every man in the colonies. He said as much.

“I had hoped you would all feel that way. I should like to have the House debate something on the subject—perhaps a censure.”

Half of the huntsmen were burgesses. They looked about them, each considering bills up for consideration that would vanish if the governor prorogued them after they attempted to censure the Parliament in London. Washington thought of lingering details of the Great Dismal and the settlement for his officers on the Ohio frontier and cursed, but the matter could not be allowed to drop.

“Mr. Mason, it is no pleasure to hear such tidings, but I thank you for the warning. It remains my intention, however, despite this difficult news, to hunt. What says the company?”

Perhaps, if Washington’s views had not been so plain, some would have abandoned the hunt and started back for the capital immediately. Such had been Mason’s plan, no doubt. But so committed was Washington to his hunt, and so formidable did he appear astride his charger, that no one said a word. Mason went inside for refreshment, and the hunt went out.

But Washington’s mood was foul.

They raised a scent soon enough, and the fox took them up Dogue Run beyond the new mill, up into the marshy country near the eastern bounds of Rose Hill and into relatively unfamiliar country before they lost the quarry in a quagmire. The dogs got muddy to no purpose and both handlers were filthy by the time they had the dogs in order and off on a second scent. It all smacked of incompetence to Washington. He had not been riding right forward with the hounds where he liked to be, and he felt the burden of the lost fox on his shoulders and was sure the field blamed him for the loss. Mrs. French, a very Artemis-like woman but a witch for gossip, was regaling Mercer with some unnecessary tale, doubtless exploring the debt problems of the Posey family, or some such. But he heard her say “Muse” in a suggestive way, and he heard Hugh Mercer laugh a certain laugh, and his resentment at the day reached a new height. What were they saying about Muse, that coward? Muse had not even responded to his letter. Was he up to some new calumny? Washington fumed while the dogs searched for a new scent, casting wider and wider back toward the Rose Hill barns. The country above the marsh was relatively unknown to Washington; he had been over it often enough, but never at speed. And when the pack began to move, he was not really minding the ground or his mount.

Nelson shied at something. Washington felt the shift of weight for the jump and raised himself for it, but as the back legs pressed him forward, he rolled his barrel to avoid the snake, and Washington, angry and bemused, felt the unthinkable—the gradual change of weight that told him he was going to lose his seat. He wasn’t thrown quickly—that would have been a mercy. He fell with great slowness, and indeed for a few seconds he was sure he was going to save the jump and regain his seat. He lost a stirrup at the first, and the uneven landing cost him the second, but he had a toe back in his left stirrup when Nelson gave a little twist and he slumped past the regained stirrup. He couldn’t quite get a leg down to dismount, and his hunting sword caught on a buckle of the girth and turned him around so that he fell only the last few feet. Nelson was barely moving at the time, which made it worse; it looked like Virginia’s best horseman had just fallen off a standing horse.

He had to roll off his sword, which had punched him in the side on landing. The ivory of the hilt was cracked, the copper-green dye showing white. Mrs. French was laughing in the distance; closer up, young Lee was hiding his guffaw in his sleeve and trying to look anywhere else. And Caesar, the dogs boy, was grinning broadly as he held out a hand to help his master up.

Washington ignored the suggestion that he needed help to rise and rose to his feet only to find his swordbelt had come down around his knees, and he stumbled badly before he caught himself. The movement was so comical that it finished both Lee and Caesar, who lost themselves in laughter. Washington fumbled with the lion’s-head buckle for a moment before settling the ruined sword back on his hip. Dogs were barking, pandemonium reigned, and Nelson was sidling away uncaught. He had torn his scarlet coat in the fall—the thrust of his shoulders had been enough to tear the seam under the arm.

He had not been a laughing stock since before he went away to the war, and it didn’t suit him, but he strove to cover his feelings. He couldn’t blame Nelson, the most reliable of mounts.

“Master yourself, Mr. Lee,” he said in a tone so dark that Lee went pale.

Caesar continued to laugh while he ran ahead of Nelson, brought him to a stand by a fence, offered him a carrot, and caught him. He couldn’t stop laughing. Old John, Mr. French’s John, thought of stepping in, but he could tell that the boy was doomed; no fake attack by another black man could save him, and besides, he preferred Queeny a little freer with her favors. He stood and watched, and Caesar laughed, and the world changed.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Great Dismal Swamp

The trees were larger than anything he had seen since he had left Africa, and the swamp smelled a little like the land by the great river where he had been born. But any notion of home, any similarity that might have recalled a better time and made the place bearable, was instantly erased by the crushing weight of the work.

He was back in the barracoon, locked down at night with chains, sweating to move great clods of mud all day. No woman lay beside him; he did not have a natty jacket and fine leather boots to show his calves. He was naked but for a loose cotton shirt that was gray with dirt and sweat, and some Russian linen trousers that had been old before he had arrived. The last man had died in them.

They rose before dawn, cooking tin kettles of corn meal in the early gray light, forced to endure the first torture of the day as the smell of the overseers’ bacon wafted down the slight breeze. Caesar had not eaten meat since he arrived. He ate his corn meal in silence, as did the other men. Every one of them was a “cull”, a slave that was so troublesome, or lazy, that his master would give him to the reclamation project for the swamp rather than have him at home. Few of them talked; most looked deeply stupid. Caesar couldn’t help but notice that he was the only Ashanti, and that most of the rest were Ebo. It seemed his lot in life to fall among Ebo and still be considered less than they.

What little coolness the night generated was gone long before he took his shovel and mattock and followed the file of slaves down the trails into the swamp. They were cutting the drainage ditches envisioned by Washington, a few feet at a time. The overseer was stupid, and often drunk, and the neat trenches that Washington designed were executed in a very haphazard manner, never deep enough and often running in curves. The easy days they simply cut trails, or attempted to till the fetid ooze they brought up in digging and piled behind them in neat fields. They might some day be neat fields, but so far looked like small lakes of mud.

When he first arrived, Caesar was almost overwhelmed by the futility of it, and the almost-certain knowledge that he would die here, cutting into a swamp. But as time went by, he saw tiny changes despite the corrosive atmosphere, the incompetence of the overseer, and the complete obstructionism of the slaves. Bit by bit, they were claiming land from the swamp. Some of what they drained actually stayed dry. It almost seemed a further offense, that his labor would, in fact, build more fields for his master to till. But another part of him rejoiced that the work was not utterly wasted.

No one spoke. The men with him sang, sometimes, but their songs were badly sung and he didn’t know the words, which were a mixture of African and local patois. They needed a caller, but any slave talented enough to control the pace of the work as a caller in the fields would never end up here. He would be leading the workers in some happier place.

The daze lasted Caesar for some time—time he was never able to reclaim in his mind, until in later years he wondered if he had had a sickness or a fever that kept him from thinking clearly. He remembered leaving Queeny, and her pressing his store of coins into his hands as he left; he remembered Washington dismissing him with the wave of his hand, as finished business, his thoughts elsewhere; he remembered arriving, and some hazes of work and sleep and the smell of the corn meal in the morning. He remembered thinking that before this he had never fully realized what being a slave was. But then he awoke, so to speak. He never forgot that waking because he was swinging the great ill-balanced pick, the only one they had that wasn’t broken, and another man was trying to pull the stump before he had even cut the roots with the pick, just the sort of inefficient work that typified the whole. And then a new man began to sing a song he knew a little of, a hymn he had heard in the carriage barn. He knew the song and he began to sing with it, swinging the pick over his head and down into the morass and the roots, gradually breaking them to the point that his partner for the day could wrestle the whole mass out with a snap and a sucking noise. Water pooled into the hole left by the stump, and with that water Caesar’s will returned, all in a rush. The man who told himself that today he was a slave returned, and the mindless automaton who had swung the pick recoiled forever.
He couldn’t really remember the time that had passed, except to know that he had lost his place on the plantation for laughing at the Master, a knowledge that finally and fully exposed to him his foolishness and filled him with rage that he had fallen so easily into the snares of the fine clothes and Queeny’s embrace. The swamp was different only in details. He was a slave, and the property of another man.

He sang and sang that whole day, and in the evening he met the new man, a BaKongo man who had served the Lees. He was called Virgil, a tall, strong man with large eyes that seemed always asleep.

Caesar had all but lost the habit of speech, though he still sought to enunciate. Habits die hard.

“You look too good to be here, Virgil.”

“I ain’t, though. I ain’t. I lucky be alive.”

“What’d you do, man? Kill someone?”

“Tried. Tried with a pitchfork.” When Virgil said it, it sounded like “pithfoak.” He had missing teeth on top of his thick patois.

Virgil shrugged. “He took my woman once too often. Let him stay with his own white gals, that’s all I says.”

“And did you hurt him?”

“I nevuh even ma’ked him, the white bastu’d. He had a little sword, cut me up.”

Other men, the less stupid-looking ones, nodded, though none of them was talking. It was as if Caesar and Virgil were alone with a group of ghosts who murmured and ate, but never spoke.

Virgil leaned over to Caesar and whispered.

“You have plans to run? You seem the smaht one, heh?”

Caesar was at once chagrined that he did not have plans to run and instantly focused on them. Yes, he would run. There would be no more money and no chance of working his way free from here. He realized in an instant that he had seen things, even in the daze.

“We are locked down each night, Virgil.”

“Yeah. Barracoon. I see it. And day?”

“Overseer has two guns, fowler and a pistol. Both loaded. Means business. Shot a boy before I come. He has another man and another party off north, not far. There be more of ’em than we can see, too.”

“So we needs to go at night, get a start. You go with me?”

Caesar thought a moment—thought that Virgil might be a plant to lure him—but he couldn’t imagine any punishment worse than where he was. And it was time to change, time to strike out.

“No, Virgil. Not how I see it. We got to take the man and kill him, get his guns. Then we run.”

“Whoa, boy. We do that, we dead if they take us. No whipping. My back plenny hahd, you see? But no hahd ‘nough for no musket ball.”

“You look and see. We have lots o’ time, man. Lots o’ time.”

It was several days before the overseer shot a man, the first time it had happened since Caesar came to the swamp. Caesar never knew why—whether the man tried to run or whether he was shot for poor work, or on a whim. They heard the sharp, high-pitched sound of a pistol. Later, another slave, Old Ben, said he’d seen the body. Caesar worked with Virgil now. He looked at Virgil while Ben told the story, and when the other man was gone, Virgil looked determined.

“You got it right, Mr. Caesar. Boy gotta die.”


“I don’ know. We think, then we get him. But he gotta die ‘fo he kill us all.”

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Carpenters Hall - Meeting place of the 1st Continental Congress

Carpenters Hall - 1st Continental Congress Prayers

Washington’s parlor was not all he could have asked, and the size and bustle of Philadelphia so greatly outran that of his native Williamsburg or Alexandria that he had had trouble sleeping his first few nights with the constant rumble of carts and the calling of wares. In time, the habits of his military youth won out, and he slept better.

The business of the Continental Congress crept along, each faction hesitant of the others, each region jealous of its own case and its own traditions, but a few men, like Franklin, kept the business of the continent moving, and with that, Washington had to be content. He did his bit to keep the factions happy, but he could not speak in public. He sometimes felt that it was a mistake for the Virginians to have sent him, the more so as Virginia was now fighting the Indians in the very territory that he had just ridden over. In his absence he had missed the opportunity to command the last major expedition of his time. He regretted the talk of massacres—indeed, the Philadelphia Quakers made it sound as if Governor Dunmore had provoked the war himself to suit his own ends—but the campaign might have suited him.

It didn’t matter now. But the short campaign had revealed any number of predictable defects in the Virginia militia. Washington had before him on the table a letter from some of the officers of Fairfax County, asking him to procure muskets, drums, and a pair of colors for their companies, which he had every intention of doing for them. He would want the militia of his county to appear to advantage, just as his parish church should, if compared to others.

The phrase that caught his eye, had made him rise and pace the room, was one of the last.

“We leave it to you, sir, to determine whether it may be proper or necessary to vary from the usual colors that are carried by the regulars or militia.”

Colors were the life’s blood of a military unit, the flags around which they rallied, the sacred symbols of their country’s trust. Roman legions had built temples to honor their eagles; the regulars of Great Britain were not so much different, lodging and bringing out their colors with elaborate ceremony. And in Virginia, the better militia did the same, learning from local regulars or veterans like Washington.

He looked out on the bustle of his continent’s largest city, and pondered on varying the colors of the Virginia militia from those carried by the regulars. It was a most sobering thought—it gave him more hesitation than all the empty talk of the congress, all the moving speeches by Patrick Henry or young Jefferson—the thought of troops, troops he might yet command in Virginia, serving under colors other than the king’s.

Men in the Congress talked of war with England. It was that open now. Most of the men who talked and talked had never seen a day’s service and had no idea what such a war would entail. Every member was convinced that as native sons, their own valor and honor would stand any affront. Washington thought of the regulars he had seen, of the Fairfax Militia’s lack of coats or muskets, and the desire to know what pattern the flags should be. It was a question vexing much of the continent, and until war struck them, Washington preferred to endure the Congress. He feared the talk of war from men who hadn’t seen one and wouldn’t have to pay the price.

Charles Lee, who had been a guest of the Lees in Virginia but was no relation, had already offered to raise a battalion for the defense of the Congress. His offers hadn’t been accepted; neither had he been sent away.

Men asked Washington questions, ignorant questions for the most part, about war. He resented them; he resented how little they knew about the supply of a battalion, or its feeding. He bought several books to help him answer the questions and to drive home his points, that war would be expensive, that the continent lacked some of war’s most basic necessities. Men listened to him, or didn’t, as their inclinations went; and he sat in his window, and tried to imagine a body of Virginia men without a king’s color, and for the first time since the whole sad business began, he hesitated. But around him, the pulse of the city beat faster, and increasingly, it beat a martial air.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
Negro servants returning hence [from England], with new and enlarged
notions, take off that terror, and shew them all the weaknesses of whites…​

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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

George Washington At Lake Drummond, Dismal Swamp

Even as their tools ate at the swamp, the swamp ate away at the men. As the weeks blurred into months, the toll mounted, until Caesar’s hands were numb most of the night. He couldn’t always grip the tools he had to use during the day, and sometimes they would slip. One day, with his hands wet from the blood of cracked calluses, he had swung his sharp mattock into the roots of an old stump. He’d missed, hit the top of the stump a glancing blow, and the tool turned on him like a live thing. The blade had gouged his leg deep, right into the muscle, and he had dropped like a cleared tree on to the wet ground and watched the blood flow. The wound didn’t hurt like a cut, at least at first, but ached like an enormous bruise.

It bled fitfully for days, and then began to ooze a noxious pus. He couldn’t stop working, although he was certain he had some kind of fever from it. The blood drew flies, and the flies were like one of the plagues of Egypt that the preacher at Mount Vernon had spoken of. He seldom thought of Mount Vernon anymore. It seemed almost like a paradise compared to this hell—a hell of flies and eternal work, of slaves who had recently become too afraid even to break their tools or protest the abuse.

Other men died. Not every day, by any means, but the fever took some, and the pistol took others. A broken bone was as likely a death warrant as a bullet to the head; neither Gordon nor the other whites seemed particular about nursing the injured. Caesar worked on with the hole in his leg, and limped, and knew that he would never be as fast as he had been, even if he lived, but the wound never got the smell of death to it, though it oozed an oily white pus for weeks, and in time it left a deep dent and a scar and an ache every time the sky threatened rain, which was most mornings in the winter.

The wound changed him—as a man, and as a slave. At first, he was so certain he was going to die that he began to work less, and to devise ways of cheating the overseer that would have seemed petty to him once. He rested longer, took slower swings, made simple mistakes. He never broke a tool—that was worth a beating—but he stopped leading the others in his party. He let them return to drifting and asking Gordon for every bit of direction. That was his greatest protest, although he didn’t know it at first.

Caesar hadn’t appreciated that he had become the leader in his work party until he stopped. It had seemed natural to him to console, prod and help his mates, no matter how dull they were. But he lost interest in them when he hurt himself, and his crew returned, almost without thought, to being a band of lost individuals. None of the other men was interested in leading the work party. Most had been broken before they came; the rest were certainly broken now. If Gordon noticed, he didn’t say anything; perhaps he preferred their puzzled docility to unified work. Perhaps he was himself too stupid even to see the change; Caesar had known his type before, in Africa and Jamaica, and doubted there was much behind those close-set eyes but hatred.

Caesar had expected a pack of rebels, but almost all the men were broken, except those who had been sent there for being too stupid to work on the big farms of their owners. The smart ones had already run, sometime in the misty past before the overseers were given guns. Mr. Gordon, their overseer, was a brutal man with a terrible fund of energy. Even in the worst of the heat, he continued to hate every black man and woman ever born, and muttered endlessly under his breath. Each time he walked up to a group of men, he made a show of checking the prime in the pistol at his belt. He carried a fancy little flask and reprimed with it often. Caesar noticed these details because he still thought of killing Gordon, but the chance never came.

Twice they received drafts of new slaves from other plantations, but none came from Mount Vernon or any of the other Washington farms, and Caesar had no news. He rarely even saw Virgil, though he had taken to the man immediately. Virgil had been moved to another crew after a week, and Caesar suspected that Gordon had seen them talking and was wary of allowing them to be partners.

Sometimes his rebellion hurt him. When he stared down Old Ben because the man wanted his help; when the boy who came and cooked their corn hurt his hand and Caesar simply let him run off injured; a thousand other cuts, tiny abandonings of responsibility. But they were men, and they were not his men; they were slaves. He thought about these things in a distant, unconnected way, as if they were events going on in a fireside story. He couldn’t concentrate on himself.

After weeks of petty rebellion and hoarded rest, Caesar finally re-emerged from the hell of flies and pain and expected death. As it closed, he began to believe that this wound, at least, would not be his death; and he began to fear from his own action, his carefully developed habit of flinching at the sound of Gordon’s voice, that he had allowed himself to break inside.

Long afterwards, he thought that the wound must have fevered him, because one afternoon he found himself leaning on his mattock, ankle-deep in ooze but well apart from the others, and he was listening to a voice trailing away:

“…you jes slow down, boy,” he heard. It was his own voice. He had been engaged in a spirited argument with himself, although the sides and the arguments were slipping away like a dream to a man awakening. But the other voice had sounded more like the preacher’s, he was sure, and it scared him to the bone that he was possessed, or that the whites had broken him at last.

He shook his head, to clear it, and looked back to where he could see other men working in a line stretching for a hundred yards, with the ancient trees hanging over them and birds in the high canopy. The men seemed to have as much consequence as the birds and again he thought of the preacher, and that he had said that the Lord saw even the fall of a sparrow. Why a sparrow? He thought. Why that bird in particular? Those tiny hummingbirds, now they was small. Smaller than a sparrow.

And again, he realized that he had been speaking the words aloud, and again he was afraid, both that he was broken like the other broken men, and that he would stand and talk to himself about sparrows until Gordon put a pistol ball in his head.

Later, he caught himself weeping, and he didn’t know why, but if that was a fever, it broke then, because he didn’t talk to himself again.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Patrick Henry (1736 - 1799)

“The establishment of such a militia, composed of Gentlemen and Yeomen, is at this time particularly necessary, by the state of our laws for the protection and defense of the country, some of which have expired, and others shortly will do so; and that known remissness of government, in calling us together in a legislative capacity, renders it too insecure, in this time of danger and distress, to reply that opportunity will be given of renewing them in General Assembly—”

“Make your point, Mr. Henry.”

“I will, sir.”

“Rather, Mr. Henry, you have done. You want us to vote an extraordinary militia act because it is unlikely that Lord Dunmore will call the Burgesses?”

“Yes, sir. May I continue?”

“If you must.”

“Sir, I must.” Patrick Henry, the prime orator of the House of Burgesses, raised his papers for a moment, recalling his place, and his voice continued in a deliberately humdrum manner.

“Ahem…General Assembly, or making any other provision to secure our inestimable rights and liberties from those farther violations…” The rumble from the Convention seat was not all royalist; and Henry’s tempo began to change as he added emotion to his voice. “Violations with which they are threatened. RESOLVED, therefore…”

Washington’s neighbor leaned over to him. “This isn’t about defending ourselves from the Delaware, is it?”

Washington smiled carefully, hiding the remnants of his teeth.

“I think not.” He thought back to his review of the Dumfries Independent Company a few days before. They had their new colors, a company standard with a motto, and a dark blue color with the union in the canton. It was a gesture toward the king’s men in the county, but a far cry from the king’s color that had traditionally graced every regiment of militia, a union flag two fathoms across. They were uniformed in blue and buff, his favorite colors and the traditional colors of the liberal Whig party in England.

Washington’s other neighbor leaned across him to George Mason, two down on his right.

“It’s rhetoric like this that costs us support in England. Let this man go on and we’ll lose every friend we made with the Congress.”

Down on the floor, Patrick Henry raised his face to the men in the benches and drew himself to his full height. He looked around him like a man entering a ball and searching for friends.

“We must fight.” Uttered with regret, but uttered. A silence fell over the hall; the royalists sat thunderstruck. It had been whispered. Now it had been said. A murmur from the back benches.

“You do not care for the sentiment? But it is being forced upon us by unprecedented tyranny. It is not our property that is threatened, but our liberties, not the pennies of taxation, but the pounds of chains that this government would load upon us. Did I say we must fight? Perhaps what I should have said is, we must fight. We must fight! There, ’tis said.”

Mason and Andrew Stephen were talking so fast that Washington had to crane forward past them to hear Henry on the floor; indeed, the only thing he heard clearly was the reiteration that he must fight. He nodded. It was obvious that it was now to come to blows; every thinking Whig saw it. Many men looked shocked, or angry, even at this late date; Washington could see Benjamin Harrison, red in the face; and Pendleton, Bland, and Nicholas looked as if close friends had been murdered before their eyes. Behind them, one of Washington’s grooms gestured to him from the doorway; forbidden in the church, he could only try to catch his master’s attention, but it was now riveted to the floor before him.

“…and so retain our liberty, regardless of the cost. Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

The groom’s head rose with every word, but no one paid him any mind.

It was a brilliant piece of rhetoric; it stifled opposition, though the royalists tried valiantly to change the course of debate and delay the call to arms. None could match the heights of eloquence that Henry had reached; none could banish the fear of “chains and slavery”. And so, with many a beating heart, the Virginia Convention voted to put the colony of Virginia into a “posture of defense” and named a committee of twelve men to be responsible to the colony for embodying, arming, and disciplining such a number of men as might be sufficient for the purpose. Patrick Henry was the first man named to the committee. The second was George Washington.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
“They arming the militia. All ovah the country they be gettin’ guns and men togethuh. I seed ’em down by our place, men marchin’ and trainin’.” The new man was from the Lee plantation on the Chesapeake, and he was a fund of information. He was not a broken spirit, either, but had been sent to the Dismal for insubordination.

“I jus’ don’ think the time to run is when ever’ white boy in Virginny has got his gun to hand.” Virgil had come in with his crew the night before. The rising sun barely slanted through the canopy yet, and they were all enjoying the only cool breeze they would have for the day while a young boy with a torn foot stirred a battered copper pot of corn meal. It contained several frogs; both Caesar and the new man, Lark, had developed some skill in catching frogs, and they were plentiful. Virgil had set himself to learn the art.

“Maybe the governor will arm the slaves.”

“That’s foolishness, Lark.” Caesar was surprised to hear his own voice. “Who’s gon’ arm slaves?”

“I heard it happen’ befo’. Not just one time, neithuh.”

Old Ben spoke from the gloom of his blanket. “They done it before this, boys. They armed us in Carolina once. We was to fight Cherokees.”

The little group fell silent. Caesar gave the boy by the fire a little slap and pointed him off to another fire. The boy looked at him, pleased somehow, even at being sent away, and Caesar wondered what he had been like these last weeks.

“You run ‘long.” He tried to sound kindly. Perhaps he smiled. It didn’t come easily. The boy showed his teeth and hobbled off. He waited till the boy was out of earshot. “We have to kill Gordon.”

Only Virgil met his eye and nodded, but the others made noises, softly.

“Any o’ us could die, any day,” Caesar continued. “He don’t give a damn whether he shoot us or we die o’ fever.”

“‘Bout time you come back to yo’ senses, boy!” Old Ben spoke out of the darkness and then leaned in to the firelight.

“Where do we go?” asked Virgil.

Old Ben threw off the blanket. “Run to John Canno!”

“John Canno’s a myth, old man.” Caesar had heard of John Canno from Queeny, from Old Ben. He sounded too good to be true, a black bandit in the deep woods to the south. No one ever seemed to be able to say just where he was from, though.

“If he be, then where all the slaves that run? Who steal the cattle? Who take the folk to Florida?”

Caesar looked at them with a little impatience.

“It ain’t time for talk. You run to Florida if you wan’. I say we kill the overseer and go into the swamp. We steal what we need. Wi’ his pistol and another gun, we can hunt, if we have powder. I was a warrior, and I could be again, and I’ll start here. I’d rathuh die killing this Gordon man than live fat, whether here or at Mount Vernon. I’m tired of being a slave. And if I stay here and talk, I’ll be a dead slave. Better die free.”

“You have a plan?”

“Yeah, Virgil, and it ain’t fancy. When he come to the barracoon, he take us to the tools, every morning, wait while we hoist what we need. Yeah?”

“Yeah.” They all nodded.

“So when I get my pick, I raise it and throw it, grab the nearest tool and charge him. I’ll go first, but every man of you better be behind me. He get one shot. He hit me, I die. You kill him, you run. Or he won’ hit me. Then we fin’ the other man, the one we never see. We kill him too. After that, we have some o’ their food, make a plan.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s all I have, man.”

Virgil smiled. “I got one thing bettuh, then. Listen. I carry the corn meal with me. When he stand to watch us get the tools I throw it at him. It burning hot, wet his gun, too, I hope.”

Caesar nodded. “Wet gun might not fire.”

Lark smiled at both of them. “When do we go, boys?”

Caesar looked at both of them, and past them.

“We’ll go when I give the word. First morning everything is right.”

“I wan’ do it now,” said Virgil. Lark gave him an odd look; Caesar saw it but couldn’t interpret it.

“Wait, Virgil. Jes’ a little while.”

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Queen Anne Musket

“It all comes down to logistics, gentlemen. We lack arms, we lack wool, we lack powder and lead to make ball; we have precious few cannon, and those of smallest caliber; and we have no magazines to assemble these items even if they were to fall on us from the heavens.”

Patrick Henry looked at Washington, usually silent and taciturn, as if he had been struck by a thunderbolt.

“Surely every gentleman in Virginia has private arms. Many have fine fowlers, even rifles.”

Washington smiled, although the smile didn’t touch the skin on his cheeks. He waved a hand to a slave by the tavern’s counter and pointed to top his tankard.

“I’m not sure how many gentlemen want their fine Durs Egg fowlers being handed out to the yeomanry to repel invaders, at ten pounds and more each.”

“If their liberty requires it!”

“Mr. Henry, you are a warm friend to liberty, but not, I think, a soldier. Those fine fowlers have fine parts; the cocks and hammers are slim as a pistol. You’ll have noticed this, I think?”

“I have, sir. I have handled arms and need no lesson.”

“I mean no insult, sir, but you do. Those fine, slim cocks will break when a scared boy pulls them back too hard; the springs will burst when overused, or let to wet and rust. A Queen Anne musket like this here is a heavy thing and built to be used by scared boys. The springs are such that it takes a heavy pull to cock, but see how much metal there is throughout? You can drop it and it won’t break. And your fowler has a smaller bore—perhaps sixty or sixtyfive caliber, some as small as twenty or twenty-five balls to the pound. A military musket is bigger in the bore, faster to load and uses a heavier ball that carries farther in the flat or in the brush.”

Henry nodded. He had not become a great debater by failing to note when other men knew more than he. And Washington knew the tools of his former trade like no one else on the committee.

“Your rifles can be pitiful things, sir, because the balls they fire are even slighter, but mostly because they are fragile, and take a man trained in their use, of which we will have too few. Neither they nor the fowlers will take a bayonet, either. A soldier needs a bayonet, either to try conclusions with an enemy at close quarters or to keep the enemy’s horse at bay. Without bayonets, you’ll never get a man to stand when he is charged. We need muskets, and proper ones—made careful and with bayonets to fit—and cartridge boxes, slings, and bayonet carriages. And we’ll need our powder and ball rolled up in cartridges—faster to load, as the men have only to bite off the ball and pour the powder down the barrel. Loading from the horn is too slow.”

His old allies from the militia acts of 1757 knew all this; they’d heard it all too often before. But it was news to the new firebrands, and if it didn’t cool their ardor, it certainly caused them to start counting their shillings. But Henry never relished defeat in any debate; he deemed his opponent knew the subject better than he, but couldn’t let the opportunity to speechify pass.

“You seem to have little confidence in the yeomanry of Virginia. Scared boys and men who won’t stand, to hear you.”

“Well, sir, I’ve seen ’em run a few times. Never been a man born not scared when the first balls fly. No gentleman asks too much of his soldiers. General Braddock said that. He may have lost Monongahela, but he was no fool.”

“Our men will have the courage of true patriots!”

Washington shook his head. To him, the issue of true patriotism was not germane; no one could recruit or feed an army on it.

“Virginia will need three thousand stand of arms for the foot alone. And where the furniture for the mounted companies will come from is beyond me. Muskets will be hard enough, but musketoons and carbines and sabers…”

“New York has been making muskets.” Mr. Lewis had sat quiet up until now.

“We don’t need New York goods to fight Virginia’s wars.” Patrick Henry seemed divided as to whether the colonies would rise together or as discrete entities.

“Oh, but we do, and we will, sir, if we propose to fight the mother country. To raise an army, and face British regulars, we will need an army of the whole continent, trained and mustered. And we will need the support and equipment of every colony to face them.”

Henry turned to Peyton Randolph, who had entered a moment before and sat quietly against the wall. “Colonel Washington becomes the orator at last.”

Randolph, who had a longer experience of Washington, smiled grimly. “Washington only speaks when he knows his subject and his passions are moved. When you speak of war, you meet both those conditions.”

Randolph stood when Washington ceased. “Gentlemen, I have to ask your committee to rejoin us in the church as we are to vote the members for the Continental Congress.”

As the chairs scraped back and the men began to move, Henry leaned past him. He was a man who always separated the battle of wills in debate from the true demands of politics. “Make sure we take the soldier,” he muttered, and cast a significant glance at Washington. “I think we shall need him.”

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
The next two days, they were sent to plant tobacco instead of going into the swamp. It rested them all, and gave them a chance to exchange news with the slaves from the other gangs. They got a little more to eat each night, too. Caesar assumed it had to do with newly delivered supplies that had come with Lark, another slave who never spoke named Tom, and several new white men.

Days passed, and still the circumstances they needed for the plan didn’t arise.

The third and fourth mornings, Gordon sent one of the new whites, Keller, to unlock the barracoon, and himself stood well back with a long fowler across his arm; the next morning he did not appear at all. Keller was unarmed, except for a large knife. He was surly, and Caesar could feel his fear of the blacks, which put him on his guard. The other men ignored his curses, took their tools, and went to work, tensions easing only when they were at the heads of their trenches into the swamp, hacking their ditches a little deeper. But something was different; Gordon hadn’t watched them go out, and on a spur of impulse, Caesar stayed with Virgil’s party rather than going out with his own. The sullen boy said nothing; he didn’t even know the slaves apart yet.

Caesar cut at the roots of a large tree for almost an hour, working his hands into steadiness, cracking the knuckles where he had to force them to respond. The knuckles were getting more swollen every day; they had never looked like this before, even early in his service in the Indies. The black blood around the edges of his calluses made him queasy. He was not a weak man, but his hands looked as if they would never again be adept at anything. Even swinging the pick had become a matter of fine judgment. He tried not to look, then looked again, with the vanity of a handsome man who sees his body being ruined.

He wondered if the plan to kill the overseer had been betrayed. He was sure of Virgil, less sure of Lark. Lark was new. Old Ben would never; he was too old to care one way or the other. The cook boy, perhaps. He stayed all day at the barracoon, cleaning and cooking; perhaps his loyalty was with the whites. But if Gordon knew the plan, what was he waiting for?

Suddenly, Caesar decided it was time to act. The decision came suddenly; it didn’t seem to result from conscious thought. It was there. Time to go. He had assumed that the attack should come at the morning or perhaps at the evening, because they were all together; but what entered his mind now was the idea that there was little to be gained from involving the other slaves.

He sank the head of the pick into a root on purpose, tested it to be sure that it wouldn’t come out easily, and crept off into the swamp. If discovered, he could say he was looking for another man with an ax or mattock to help him cut the pick free. He climbed a short ridge to his left and followed a game trail along it, then moved as quietly as he could through the undergrowth, parallel to the line of workers. He had to know where Gordon was. He was not going to lie sleepless another night and be disappointed. Freedom was no longer something he wanted in the future; his hands and his maimed leg demanded it immediately.

He came abreast of Virgil, who was working silently. All the singing had stopped; they had figured that it could be used to track the location of their work, and that if it stopped on the day they went for the overseers, it might warn them. No one questioned the end of the songs. Very few of the men knew why they stopped. Virgil hefted his ax and slipped a fascine knife from behind a tuft of brush. He handed it to Caesar.


“I’m goin’ to fin’ him. Find him.”


“And then we take him, you an’ me.”

“What about Lark?”

“Just you and me, Virgil.”

“I’m with you.” Virgil didn’t sound calm, but he was clearly resolved. It lifted Caesar’s spirits.

If Virgil wanted to question why Lark had ceased to enjoy Caesar’s confidence, he didn’t. Caesar slipped back into the brush, the heavy fascine knife held in his left hand. It had a vicious hook and an ax blade on the back, meant for cutting brush. This one was painted bright red, to make it easier to find when a careless man left it on the ground.

Caesar’s heart began to beat faster. He moved easily now, the sun having warmed his aching bones but not yet sapped his strength. Virgil made considerably more noise. Caesar stopped and pointed. They were past their own gang, back toward the barracoon, the cabins, and the tilled fields. Keller was relieving himself into their ditch. He had the large knife at his belt and no other weapon. Caesar looked at Virgil, whose lips were a little pale, and he nodded. Caesar moved warily into the open to a patch of cat-tails, making the dry winter grass rustle, but Keller didn’t move, still splashing the ditch with his urine and grunting a little, as if pleased with himself. Caesar made it to the reeds. He stood very still, hidden only by the man’s position and the merest fringe of green, and breathed slowly through his mouth, spreading his hands wide for balance. He had practiced with his brothers, but his one experience of combat had not prepared him for this. His hands ached as if maimed. He took one long delicate step into the reeds that stood between him and his prey, placing his weight gradually down on a rotting stump that supported the little patch of dry ground. Keller began to button the flap of his breeches, his little grunts odd and faintly disgusting.

Caesar could smell his urine and his fetid breath. He waited until he heard the boy exhale and he leaned out carefully and pounced, his hand gripping Keller’s throat like a band of iron. The boy’s eyes were huge. Only now did Caesar really see how young he was, but he ripped the big knife free and stabbed, upwards as he had been taught, through the vitals and into the heart, pressing the boy back against his own chest and twisting the knife while his other hand kept the wind from the boy’s lungs. Virgil appeared in front of him and his ax shattered the boy’s skull.

There was no end to the blood from the head and from the heart. It stained all the water in the ditch in a moment. The boy was dead; he hadn’t made a noise, and already the flies were coming. Caesar took a deep breath and stripped the boy’s shirt, slave cotton, as poorly made as his own, over the corpse’s head. It was soaked with blood, but he used the back to mop his hands and face. He threw it to Virgil, who was still standing, shocked, by the corpse, staring at the ruin he had made of the boy’s head. Caesar ripped some ferns from the ground and used them to wipe the blade of the knife. It was a better knife than he had expected, a heavy blade with fine decoration on the backbone and a riveted wood grip. It reminded him of trade knives in Africa, a little heavier, but much the same.

“Come on, Virgil.”

Virgil just stood. He wasn’t whimpering, but his breath was loud and the sharp edges of his face were pale.

“Come on, if you’re comin’.” Caesar grabbed his arm. At first the ax came up, but the mad gleam in Virgil’s eyes faded in a heartbeat and the big man nodded dully and followed him.

They headed back toward the cabins. It was almost a mile to the clearing, and they moved along steadily, Virgil starting at every forest noise. Caesar had started to breathe freely. The killing had shocked him. He regretted the age of the boy, but he was old enough to be a warrior anywhere Caesar had been, and he carried a weapon. Virgil had it worse. Somehow, Virgil’s continued reaction helped to steady Caesar. He put his hand on the older man’s shoulder.

“Halfway home.”

“Never killed nobody.”

“Just stay with me.”

There was a horse in the paddock with the saddle still on, and a man in a greatcoat talking to Gordon in the yard of the cabin. Chickens clucked around their feet. The man in the greatcoat wasn’t large, but he looked fit, and his complexion was burned red even this early in the year. He and Gordon seemed to be arguing, though they were sharing a jug of corn liquor. His greatcoat had a velvet collar and silver buttons, and his fine hat and top boots, even covered in spring swamp mud, made Gordon’s work smock look drab and poor.

A few drops of rain began to fall, although the sun still cast a pale light over the dooryard. Caesar slipped closer to the cabin, aiming to use it as cover. He could hear their voices but not what they were saying. Virgil was still behind him. Caesar sank to his knees at the edge of the clearing and waited, as rain could only help them. It came, harder and harder, and Caesar waited patiently.

“What you doin? I can’ jes’ wait here!” Virgil was quiet, but urgent. He had the need for action on him, something that Caesar had seen before in men, a reaction to danger.

“We just wait a while, Virgil. Be still.”

Before long the April rain fell in sheets, the watery sun was gone, and so too were the men’s voices. The horse walked about the paddock, dejected and puzzled that her saddle was still on. The men were in the one-room cabin. Caesar could hear them through the thin walls of the mud-and-stick chimney. He had helped lay the chimney; he knew how flimsy it was.

“We nevah take that cabin with they inside,” Virgil said, his voice rising.

“Don’t you move, Virgil. You stay right heah. Here.” He slipped out of the mire, up the bank to the high ground, and along the rail fence of the paddock to the horse. The cabin had no windows. Unless one of the men put an eye to one of the many chinks he was safe. He put a hand in front of the horse’s nose and breathed on it. The horse made a soft noise. He ran his other hand back along the neck to the top of the saddle and felt in the holster. A pistol. Rather than drag it into the rain he felt for the buckle to the holsters and found it, unbuckled the pair of pistols, and moved back to the edge of the swamp.

“Ever shoot a gun before, Virgil?”


“This ain’t your day to learn, then.” The pistols weren’t fine, like some he had seen; these were local made and had heavy locks. The priming was sound in one, damp in the other. He recharged it from the flask in the holster. Something didn’t look right, but his experience with firearms was entirely through observing other men with them. He knew he would have to pull the cocks back to full before he pulled the trigger, and he carefully did so now. The cock came back and there was a soft click, almost pleasant. It made the piece look more dangerous. He examined it for a moment, then opened the pan and let out the priming and held the cock as he pulled the trigger. It forced forward a little against his thumb, and he lowered it into the pan and then pulled it back one click, then the other. Half cock, full cock. He had heard both terms. Now he knew the feel. He did it over and over again until he was sure of the feeling, and then he replaced the priming and put both pistols on half cock. An unlucky drip from the trees hit the lock of the second before he had it stowed away in its fur-covered horse-holster, and he had to open the pan, clear it of the black mud that formed there, and refill the pan with powder. He didn’t trust the piece, though; he had heard masters say that once a gun was wet, it stayed wet.

Virgil was silent through the whole performance, and he looked miserable.

“Soon, man, soon,” Caesar reassured him, quietly, but the words seemed to go right past him.

Caesar felt more alive than he had in months, indeed, since Mount Vernon. He felt sure of himself; he was balanced pleasurably on the edge of danger. He smiled at Virgil, a smile that shocked him because of its sheer happiness, and moved across the edge of the paddock to the back of the cabin, his steps covered by the sound of rain. Virgil set his jaw and followed, clearly terrified but determined. His face was a mask of tension, and Caesar became apprehensive that Virgil would do something rash.

Caesar stood under the eaves of the cabin and put the fascine knife under the rope that held his trousers at the back. He drew the wet pistol with his left hand and the dry one with his right. The men inside were making a bargain; Caesar could hear them huckstering. It struck Caesar that Gordon was selling some of the slaves, perhaps in preference to killing them, although he didn’t care. He moved to the long porch, where the roof protruded forward beyond the front of the cabin, and made it there with both pistols dry, cocking them with his thumbs as he crossed the step. The door was open a crack.

“Who’s there?” Gordon’s voice. Caesar didn’t hesitate, although he’d hoped to wait and ambush them when they emerged. He shouldered the door, which swung inward. The stranger in the greatcoat rose and turned and Caesar raised his left hand and pulled the trigger. The cock fell and there wasn’t even a spark. Caesar pointed the second pistol and it fired into the man’s face. The man catapulted back across the crude table, dead.

Gordon pulled a pistol from his belt and snapped it in one motion, but his prime was wet from the rain as well. He flung the big gun at Virgil and stunned him, then dove off his seat for the fowler in a corner. The cabin was full of smoke from the bad fire and the one shot, but Caesar stayed on the man, hurdling the table without thought, drawing the big fascine knife so fast that it cut his back. Gordon raised the fowler, his thumb on the cock, and Caesar cut his right hand off at the wrist with one hatefilled blow. The blood from the arm sprayed him, and the painted handle slipped in his hand and dropped to the floor. He pushed Gordon with his numb hand, as hard as he could, and the wounded man fell back across the fireplace, his back bursting through the mud and sticks even as his legs began to burn. He screamed, clearly past fighting, and Virgil’s ax finished him.

Caesar wanted to rest, even to sleep; but the shot had been loud, even in the cabin.

“Not done yet,” he said. He was almost unhurt and had killed three men. They had killed Gordon.

He smiled, and though his hands shook, he set about loading the pistol that had fired. Virgil was sick.

“You done?” he asked, when the noises stopped.

Virgil muttered something. Caesar found a leather pail of water and drank half of it, surprised that his mouth was so dry. He passed the rest to Virgil, who finished it.

“They other white boys be coming,” Virgil said, looking over the rim of the bucket.

“If they heard the shots, I expec’ they would.”

“We gon’ kill them too?”

Caesar recognized that Virgil was done. It was something he knew instinctively, that the man could not handle further violence just then. Caesar considered their position. He moved through the cabin, collecting a side of bacon and a bag of meal, a hunting pouch with a horn for the fowler, the blankets. He searched both the dead men’s bodies. The wealthy one had a fancy clasp knife, a watch, and two English guineas; Caesar kept them all, and a little pocket glass that the man had. Gordon had less, some shillings, another clasp knife, and a pocket tinder kit. Virgil leaned in the doorframe, watching the yard. He was still trembling at the knees.

“Search the horse, Virgil. We need any food she got, and the man’s blanket.”

Virgil nodded and stumbled out. As soon as he was gone, Caesar began to strip the dead men. It was miserable, gruesome work: the bodies were clumsy and flaccid; Gordon had soiled himself as he died. For that reason, Caesar left him his breeches. But he needed their shoes. The slender man’s boots fit him near enough, and he took the man’s stockings, as well. He had no illusions about walking barefoot any great distance in the Great Dismal.

When he was done, he took the piles of useful goods out to the yard and added them to the spoil from the horse. He expected it to be late afternoon in the yard, somehow; he walked out into mid-morning and realized that little time had passed since the rain.

“Go get the others.”

Virgil looked at him.

“What if they don’ wan’ come?”

“Then they can stay and get hung.”

Virgil frowned.

“I don’ like this. Too many killing. It won’ lead to no good.”

Caesar smiled, a hard smile with no humor in it that hid his teeth—Washington’s smile.

“I doubt this will be the last of the killing, my friend. But let’s run. We’ll have a long start.”

It took an hour—an hour that frayed Caesar’s nerves and made him lash out several times at the other men. He had to explain what had happened over and over; many did not like the sharing of equipment; and some simply stood slack and looked at the blood in the cabin. If the white men had returned, they could have taken the lot, Caesar suspected, but they didn’t. Caesar didn’t know how distant they were or what they were doing, but if they heard the shots, they either hid in fear or fled. At the end of the hour, Caesar’s party was finally ready to move: Caesar at the head, followed by Old Ben; three men he barely knew, carrying an iron pot and most of the food; the cook boy; Tom and Virgil closing the file. Lark was nowhere to be seen. The other slaves were huddled in groups, some eating their share of the cabin’s provisions, others already drunk on the corn liquor. Caesar had tried talk and he balked at force, but it angered him to leave them to face the wrath of the whites. He looked around the clearing; then, moved by an impulse, he walked back into the cabin, drew the little tinderbox, got a spark on charred linen, and blew it to light on some tow. He lit a tallow candle and some fatwood with the tow, and made it a bundle. Then he kicked a hole in the wattle and mud chimney and set the sticks of it on fire with his fatwood. He threw another stick into the marsh straw of the roof for good measure, and in a moment it went up with a rush. He took the bundle of tallow and wood out and threw it on the straw in the barracoon. Then he took the long sharp knife he had gained from the first boy and killed the horse. The others watched him, stunned, as he moved purposefully through the clearing, destroying the corn crib and every other structure.

“Stay if you want, you Ebo fools.” The cabin was starting to burn in earnest. “Stay and be slaves, or hang!”

They watched him; a few actually ran from him. He thought a few might follow his group when they went. He was too inexperienced to realize that, just then, most of them were more scared of him than of the hazy and uncertain future.

“You gonna die!” shouted one man, backlit by the fires.

Caesar shrugged wearily, too tired to argue, and he led his group into the swamp. Behind him, the cabin roof and the barracoon both caught, and a pillar of smoke rose slowly into the sky. But he thought, as they left the line of drains and plunged into the real wilderness, that today, at last, he was not a slave.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Major Gates

Richard Henry Lee

"Dunmore" - John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore

Thomas Gage

It was a curious gathering, and Washington thought that the men who graced his house on the eve of his departure for the second Continental Congress could not have been more unalike. What brought them together was a desire to profit by his patronage; they were friends, most of them, but every one of them wanted something. It was a role to which he was used in a small way, but it was heady, nonetheless.

Major Gates, a half-pay retired officer who had served with Washington under Braddock and had a depth of military experience unrivaled in the colonies except for Washington’s own, desired a command if the Continental Congress should see fit to raise an army. Washington smiled; he knew Gates, and knew the man felt himself Washington’s superior in the art of war. Washington had never precisely warmed to him and had always feared his ambition; and he had odd, overly ingratiating manners, the product of too many years as an inferior officer in an inferior independent company. But he would need every skilled soldier he could find if Virginia went to war.

Richard Henry Lee wanted a commission in the militia; he had proposed to raise another independent company of horse for his son Henry. He was traveling with his brother Thomas, who wanted nothing but news. Charles Carter wanted the Continental Congress to enact land legislation that Parliament in London had refused, and young Henry Lee seemed pleased to sit with the gentlemen after dinner and sip from his share of one of Washington’s famous pipes of Madeira.

“Will Dunmore fight?” asked the elder Carter.

Washington shook his head. “He took the powder from Williamsburg to rob us of the means to violence, not to provoke it. He is a careful, thoughtful man, perhaps even a devious one.”

“Thomas Gage never had the repute of a hothead, sir, and I believe he has led the way to a greater act of violence than any seen in these colonies.” Gates looked particularly satisfied that Gage had blundered. There was some history there—had Gage refused Gates a commission when he raised his Light Armed Regiment for frontier service? Washington couldn’t remember whether that was a fact or a rumor.

“The attack was utterly unprovoked. ’Tis in the express. They marched out of Boston to take powder and stores in Concord, and the Massachusetts men gave them a drubbing.”

“While we let Dunmore take our powder and then sit on our hands and take no action!” cried Henry Lee. “All the horsed militia are formed and ready at Fredericksburg.”

“And they refused to say the words ‘God save the King!’ and insisted on ‘God save the liberties of America’,” interjected Richard Lee. “Exciting times, Colonel. Is this the time for Virginia’s foremost military son to travel to Philadelphia?”

“Dunmore has nothing but a half-company of marines and some sailors. We could take the palace tomorrow and hold him until they bring the powder off the ships.” Henry Lee was excited at the prospect.

“On what grounds, gentlemen?” Thomas leaned forward in the big library chair. “I misdoubt this talk of open rebellion. If we must show our mettle to preserve our freedoms, then let’s to it and no more debate. But attack the king’s appointed governor in his palace, with the only cause that he seized powder that’s legally his? I stand with Peyton Randolph and other moderate men on this; he’ll give it up without violence. Ben, I know you admire the spirit of those Massachusetts men, but they have taken a step that may lead us, God forbid, to civil war. And war’s an ugly thing.”

Washington nodded. His thoughts were far away; Virginia had not seen fit to offer him the command of her militia, and he had responded by moving his duties to the Continental Congress to the forefront of his mind.

“It is in my mind, gentlemen, that we have left my lady alone far too long. As she has no other ladies to support her, I think it only courteous that we restore the conversation to her.”

“Hear, hear,” said Thomas, who had not relished the conversation. It was becoming harder to be a moderate.

“I should never have thought to be so inconsiderate,” said Gates, as if searching Washington’s words for a hidden insult.

But when they were all abed, Martha smiled at him and chided him firmly.

“That’s a lonely way to spend my last evening with you.”

“I’ll be back soon, like as not.”

“You won’t, though. They’ll give you the command.”

He looked at her, surprised to have his innermost secret thought divined.

“I had not thought…” The words came perilously close to a lie, and he bit his lip and looked at her.

“I have waited for you to open your mind to me, husband. It is plain as the eyes on my face that the Virginia Convention is sending you to the Philadelphia Congress as a soldier. Why else do you not have the command of the militia?”

“It would be unmannerly of me to expect such a command, and villainous to hope for such a thing that could portend such dire consequences.”

She turned her head on the pillow and looked him in the eye, hers glinting with humor.

“But you do. Is it hard, husband, for one vessel to hold so much honor and so much ambition?”

“You still possess the power to mortify me, madam.”

“None of your other friends dare. Your careful silence does not fool me, sir. I know you.”

“True enough. What can I fetch you from Philadelphia?”

“You can arrange that the clever fellow who manages all my estates and has so suddenly become a man of the first consequence be returned to me with all his limbs.”

“You honor me with your commands.”

“Do you remember promising me to leave the army, sir?”

“I remember that the subject came up when we discussed marriage.”

“I haven’t changed, sir. I dread every time my son leaves this house. Do you think I shall not dread ten times as much for you to face the cannon?”

“Hush, madam. It will not come to that.”

“It will, George Washington.” For if they give you this command, nothing will stop you if you have to force them to war, yourself. But she had made her point, and had no intention of spending their last night in further contention. Rather she smiled at him in a certain way, and changed the subject.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
“They at war!”

The boy was their most reliable contact with the world. Invisible in his poverty and his lameness, he could enter the settlements and buy goods, or tell them where to steal. That they were not the only band of runaway slaves in the swamp was for certain, as every community on the edge seemed to have a militia ready to turn out against them, but Caesar’s careful scouting and the boy’s tireless spying kept them safe.

They had covered dozens of miles in their original flight, and more since, slogging through the water or forcing a path through the deep tangles of the high ground. The column had to move at the speed of the slowest, which was not Old Ben or Long Tom, but a beaten-looking man called Fetch who seldom spoke or even looked at others. Caesar didn’t know why he had followed them, but he had, and he moved more slowly every day. Twice, Caesar looked at his body, but it had no unusual marks or wounds, nothing more than the casual cruelty and hard work of a life of servitude.

“He gon’ die,” Old Ben said, watching Caesar run his hand down the man’s leg.

“Why? He ain’t snakebit, and I can’t find anything else. He got a fevuh? Fever?”

“No. He jus’ don’ wan’ live. Simple as that.”

So Caesar, to cheat death, let them build a camp on a hummock in the northwest of the swamp. Virgil showed them how to lay up wigwams of reeds and poles, the way an Englishman had shown him. They built four. And Caesar went off every day to scout the area around them, and when he found the settlement to the north a day’s walk, he sent one of the men to find the boy.

“That boy need a name.” Old Ben seldom prefaced his remarks.


“He gon’ die young. Shouldn’ die called ‘boy’.”

“You name him, then.”

“I ain’t the big man.” Old Ben never seemed to miss a chance to remind him of his responsibility.

“You got a name, boy?” Caesar sat on a pile of brush bound up with roots. It made a passable seat.

“Not as I remember, suh.”

“Well, then.” He thought over all the names he knew. Others of his little band gathered around, or lay on pallets.

“Do you all know who James Somerset is?” he asked. He saw the flash of recognition from Virgil and Old Ben, but none of the rest seemed to stir.

“He was a man, a black man in England. He went to court to prove himself free. He won. He’s free, and there ain’t no slaves in England because he won.”

“What kind of court would let a black man speak?”

“Courts in England, I guess. He had a white man lawyer called Sharp, way I heard it.”

“Where’d you hear this?”

“I heard it from a free black sailor named King who been to England himself.”

They nodded, satisfied.

“So that’s what we call you now, boy. James Somerset, or James. Mostly Jim, I suspect. But you remember where that name is from, a brave man who made other men free.”

The boy—Jim—smiled so widely it looked as if his teeth might burst out of his mouth.

And Caesar sent him on his first mission to spy out the little town.

“Who they fightin’? War with who?” The men clustered around the boy, eager for the corn meal he had but more eager for news.

“British soldiers fought some men in ‘Choosets. They marched down a road and the militia killed ’em all dead. They killed some militia, and now it be war against the British.”

Caesar had heard talk of war with England for months, back before he was sent away from Mount Vernon. It was a persistent rumor, but this seemed to say there had been an actual battle. He had never felt much pity for the Virginians, when they talked of it, but perhaps that was just because they were the masters and he the slave. Perhaps they were themselves mistreated by the English, although he never saw any sign and the Englishmen who came to Mount Vernon had seemed little different from any other white men.

When the excitement of the news had died down, Jim told him the bad news in private, which was smart of him. Other overseers had reported the bloody escape and militia were seeking them in the swamp. Jim hadn’t heard much, just a hint from a little black girl that there was a hunt in the swamp and a garbled version of the killing, which had clearly magnified in the telling.

“You only killed they three men, I know. I saw them. I counted. Stories say you killed ten or mo’.”

“Didn’t bother you none, Jim?”

“Oh no, suh.”

“Get something to eat, Jim.” Caesar looked at the comfortable camp, with two brush huts and a covered fire pit. They’d been there for several days and his hands were less numb. None of the men would want to leave.

But they were hunted, and it was time to move.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Peyton Randolph

Peyton Randolph, acting as speaker for the Continental Congress, was seated in the center of the head table. He rose carefully to his feet and demanded silence of the hubbub around him. The tavern’s common room was filled with members of the Continental Congress and wellwishers, some of whom had already adopted military dress, so that the dinner had something of the appearance of a council of war.

“Any man who studies the classics will tell you that the ancients knew that most good generals were good farmers,” he began, and Washington winced. Most of the great generals had never farmed in their lives; Caesar and Alexander leapt to mind.

“If that be true, then we have among us a man uniquely fit to command, a veteran of our wars with the French and a farmer whose success is a byword in Virginia. If the cause of liberty must resort to arms, therefore, I think we can ask no better than that those arms be borne and led by my friend,” and here he indicated Washington with a gesture.

“I give you the Commander in Chief of the American armies.”

Every man in the room rose to his feet. Men who had never worn swords in their lives but to funerals were wearing them now, even in the cramped quarters; and among the coats of hunting plush and dark velvet, Washington saw more than a few worn laced coats from the last war with France. Every glass rose as if in salute, and he stood, utterly at a loss for words, though the appointment had been his for a day and the dinner was in his honor. He had not expected to be so moved, and he looked at them—solemn and armed—with his heart full of fear.

“Gentlemen…I am not…I am most sensible…that is…” He stopped, and tried to raise his eyes from the table in front of him, abashed for the first time in many years, and wished that he could have a tenth of his neighbor Mr. Henry’s eloquence. But his courage stood by him; he was not nervous, only moved that they should stand so.

“Gentlemen. I am honored beyond words that you…that you have chosen me to lead this enterprise. I fear the result more than I wish, and I hope…I hope that no man present enters lightly into the notion of war. I fear my merits will fall short of the magnitude of the task. I should thank the gentlemen of the United Colonies…I should thank…them, for so much confidence in my abilities; but I dread to fail, and ruin my country and my reputation in such a task.”

He looked up then, aware that he had spoken mostly to the table, mortified that his speech must sound so craven, but every eye was on him, and no one seemed to censure it. Their glasses were still raised.

“I will bring to this contest a firm belief in the justice of our cause, close attention to the prosecution of it, and the strictest integrity. If these are sufficient to the task…If it must be war, so be it. I will lead as best I may, and may God be with us.”

Someone at the first table said “amen” very loudly, and there was a rustle as men drank off the toast, but those sounds served only to accentuate the silence of the crowd, and they stayed standing for some time, thinking of the war to come.

Billy hadn’t stood at his elbow in the tavern as he might ordinarily have done; northerners seldom thought to provide space for a gentleman’s slave as would have happened in Virginia. So Billy had to wait until Washington returned to his lodgings to hear of the evening, and Washington was in a far more solemn mood than Billy had expected.

Billy had his boots off without complaint, and had laid out his waistcoat for a brushing before Washington spoke, his shirt open and his stock hanging from his hand.

“I don’t think they know what war is,” he said suddenly.

Billy took the stock and nodded. It wasn’t really his role to speak.

“They think making me their general shows that they are in earnest, and perhaps it does. But none of them has seen a real war. Indeed, I think that veterans of Frederick would laugh at my pretensions to knowing war. Do they expect me to keep them safe?”

Billy took the silver buckle off the sweat-stained stock and threw the stock on a pile of laundry.

Washington drank off a glass of wine from the stand next to the bed and pulled his nightshirt over his shirt, as he often did. Billy grimaced inwardly. Wearing shirts at night meant more work for the laundresses.

“We have no army to speak of, no artillery, no ships, no fortresses, no magazines full of arms.” Washington snapped around and looked at Billy. “And when we are beaten, they will blame me.”

Billy thought that Washington had invited the appointment, but kept quiet. He had Washington’s coat over his arm and Washington gestured at it.

“You can press that and send it home,” he said.

Billy looked at the coat, perfectly good broadcloth in dark blue.


“I’ll be in uniform tomorrow. And until this contest is done.”

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
Long Tom and Virgil had the pistols, though neither had fired them often; he had the fowler. Each had powder for a few shots, and no more; every man had a knife and an ax. The militia all around them had good muskets and hatchets; some had swords. What they lacked were dogs, because the dogs had balked at the deep swamp and the pepper Long Tom had used.

They were all lying in a deer hollow. The militia were close enough that every movement could be heard, every complaint about the heat. One man was sure he had seen a footprint; the others were less sure.

“Ain’t no bunch of ’em,” said one man. “Just the one print.”

“That ain’t no print, you fool.”

“Deer might make that mark, if’n he slipped on the bank.”

“Deer don’t slip.”

“Do too.”

“Shut up. Crafter, go back and look at the last crossing again. We all have shoes, so you look for barefoot marks. Dixon…Dixon.”

Caesar looked and looked for the speaker, who seemed to be right in front of him but had to be on the other side of a finger of open water. If he could shoot the officer…

…Then all the other men would rush in and massacre them. He might try to kill the officer to redress the balance, but they were nearly doomed. Caesar wondered what Dixon had done and if he was as dull as Long Tom. He continued to make useless plans as fast as his mind could work, all the while wishing for some luck.

Fetch saved them. Perhaps his nerve broke, or perhaps he chose to sacrifice himself; later, most of the men chose to believe the latter. But he moved away as silently as he had lived with them, and suddenly rose to his feet and began to run. It drew the attention of the militia gradually; he wasn’t loud, and he didn’t shout. But in a few moments all the militia were after him, too experienced to risk shooting in the dense cover of the high ground in the swamp but excited enough to crash through the brush after him.

Caesar waited only a few moments; he couldn’t afford to hesitate.

“Move! March! This way!” and he plunged off to the south, away from Fetch’s flight. The running militia didn’t hear them, and their luck held.

Fetch’s did not. A few minutes later there was a shot and a scream, then a fusillade of shots and some shouting. Caesar thought he heard them laugh.

They camped without a fire, hot and miserable in the flies and mosquitoes, with little food. Someone had dropped the black iron kettle in their flight, the corn meal bag was long empty, and Caesar didn’t dare risk a shot to bring down an animal, even if he could find one. The water was brown and warm and tasted of mud. The dead man’s boots were beginning to separate where the sole met the upper, and his stockings had rotted away inside the boots.

The boy was already asleep, utterly exhausted. Old Ben wasn’t much better.

“We can’t live like this,” said Virgil, giving voice to what every one of them felt. But to Caesar, it sounded like an accusation. He was too young to feel it otherwise. He flared.

“I’m doin’ the bes’ I can! The best! Would you rathuh be slaves? Be workin’ till you bleed?”

“Hey, Caesuh. Don’t fret so. We got nowheahs else to go. But we can’ live like this long. Boy and Ben’ll go next, when the food stay sparse.” He smiled a little. “And they ain’t no women.” That raised a murmur of a chuckle.

Frustration and anger and fatigue warred in Caesar. He wanted to walk off and leave them. He wanted to tell them how inadequate he was to the task of keeping them alive. He had never expected the militia so deep in the swamp. He had made so many mistakes about camps and food, and he felt that they all knew his every error.

“I don’ think I can get us free,” he admitted. “I ain’ made a good decision in days.”

“Don’ fret yo’sef, boy.” Old Ben sounded sleepy. “Tiuhd men don’ think straight. We all ‘live ‘cept Fetch, and that was his own choice.”

Virgil leaned forward so his face almost touched Caesar’s, and he whispered. “I ain’ sayin’ you done nothin’ wrong. I’m sayin’ we ain’ gon’ make it like this, and we need a new plan. I says we leave the swamp.”

“An’ go where?”

“South, to Florida. Spanish let you live free, I hear.”

“That famous man, John Canno, lives in Florida,” said Caesar. He still didn’t believe in John Canno. He knew how fast his own single victory had been embellished. “Let’s stay here a little longah. Longer. The militia may leave. We ought to get free o’ them tomorra anyway. We’ll go south an’ west.”

“Gon’ need food.”

“An’ powder an’ shot.”

“Whea’ we gon’ get all that?”

“I don’ know, Mastuh Virgil. But we need a li’l, a little luck. Say a prayer.”

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Washington Taking Command of the American Army

The day had turned warm, but Washington didn’t show it. His stock was buckled, his smallclothes spotless; he looked very much a commander, and much more so than most of the Massachusetts officers who had gathered for general orders.

“I should like an immediate return, by battalion, of the troops and their equipage.”

“Who would take that? I suppose one of us can ride the rounds.”

“I would expect that every battalion has an adjutant?”

Many of the officers looked at each other. General Ward, still irked at being superseded in a New England army by a Virginian, felt the criticism was personal.

“Many do, right enough, General. Not all.”

“And I expect they are formed in brigades, each of which has a brigade major?”

“I expect so, General.” Ward sounded dangerously close to anger.

“Gentlemen. I mean no censure, here, but these are not trivialities that I have cooked up with my staff. We need to know the state of the army’s powder and ball. We need to know what we have and what we lack. And to be frank, we need to know these things every day, and we will. Please see to it. I do not expect to see my officers riding the common from camp to camp to gather the numbers. Rather, I expect to see every battalion adjutant report to his brigade major, and that major to his brigadier, and hence to my chief of staff, General Gates. In his absence, to General Lee. Am I clear? Excellent.” He looked around at them. Any hesitation he had felt as recently as the night before was gone; this morning, he had seen the sentries of the Fourth, or King’s Own Regiment, on Boston Neck. He was in the face of the enemy, and operations were under way.

“Gentlemen, you have done well, and the entire continent applauds you. But whether we end this year at peace with the mother country, or whether we are doomed to civil war, we must not lose here. We cannot afford that the king’s troops mount a successful coup de main against our works.

“We do not need to win any great battles, and I wish to reassure you that I have not come before you seeking useless laurels. But neither will I squander the reputation you have garnered. Our defenses are, to be blunt, pitiful. Over the next few days I will ride over them with you, gentlemen, and our staff. But you have only to look at the two great redoubts the enemy has constructed and filled with guns on Boston Neck to see how this matter should have been carried forward. The defenses immediately below this town are insufficient, and as this is our headquarters, I have little reason to believe that matters will be better elsewhere.”

None of the New Englanders could be expected to listen to this thinly veiled criticism with pleasure, and Washington had been warned that Ward, at least, thought that the religious superiority of the Massachusetts men was a stronger armor than any regular entrenchment. He was certainly red in the face.

“God has granted us great victories, at Concord and Monroe Tavern and Breed’s Hill, General Washington, and no one can doubt that His cloak lieth over this army, and His shield stands before it.”

“I am sorry, General Ward. Does that mean you do not feel we should improve our entrenchments?” Washington spoke coldly, his courtesy strained. He did not intend to give an inch on his first day in command, lest his authority be eroded.

“I mean, General, that the hand of the Lord is more to us than all the science of the Romans.”

“General Ward, God’s cloak and shield would be greatly strengthened by a proper redoubt with ravelins below this town and some strong entrenchments on Dorchester Neck, if I am not very mistaken. I would add, for your private ear, that God may not forever tolerate behavior in a camp like I saw last night—with both alcohol and lewd women—and that as long as this army behaves in such a manner, it would be hubris, sir, to expect special consideration. If those observations are not sufficient, please remain behind when this meeting is dismissed and we can discuss the matter.”

Ward seemed likely to explode, but several of the other officers were smiling. A colonel standing behind General Ward raised his hand as if to be recognized. Washington looked past him, but the man began to speak anyway.

“We can best get men to dig…”

Washington stopped him in his tracks. “This is not a council of war, sir. When I want your opinion, I shall ask it.” Washington realized how that sounded as soon as the words crossed his lips, and he forced a small smile. “Gentlemen. Only one man can command. I do not wish to be here as a foreigner, taking command after your notable victories, but here I am at the behest of the continent.” He looked around the room, ignoring Lee’s open amusement and Gates’s solid presence, looking for reaction from the New Englanders. They looked back, sullen and closed. He sighed. He knew himself to lack the temperament to court men to his way.”General Ward, if any of my remarks could be interpreted as illiberal, please forgive me. I am moved only by my zeal for our duty, and mean no disrespect to the efforts of this army.”

Ward bowed in return, but his face remained red.

Wherever the conversation might have gone, it was interrupted by cries of “Alarm” in the camp on the common. Washington looked at Ward; the man had handed over the command, but Washington didn’t even know the names of all the brigadiers. He should let Ward respond to the alarm. Ward glared at him, and Washington stamped on his impulse.

“Get me a report of the alarm.”

A young man in a good brown cloth coat and a round hat, wearing a fine silver smallsword and sea boots, was introduced to the room in minutes.

“Captain Poole of Marblehead,” said one of his aides from the doorway.

“We can see the British moving on the Neck, sir.”

“In what strength?”

“Five or six regiments and a battalion of light infantry.”

“Do they have packs?”

The man looked crestfallen. “I don’t know.”

“How long until they are ready?”

“They are just forming, sir. An hour.”

Washington dreaded an assault on the nonexistent fortifications opposite the Neck. He looked at the door. “Get me General Lee.”

Charles Lee was an enigma to Washington, more like a British officer than an American, with a vicious turn of phrase, a certain contempt for other men, and little habits of dress that made him stand out. Today he wore blue and buff, as prescribed by Washington, but gave it a fashionable air utterly at variance with Washington’s severity. His lapels were unbuttoned, which gave the coat a look of informality; his beautiful smallsword was thrust through a pocket; he wore a small tricorn unlike any other in Massachusetts; and his watch fob dangled below a double-breasted waistcoat that in no way matched Washington’s views on the dress of his officers. Yet alone of all the men on his staff, Lee entered and presented a perfectly correct salute, bowing and putting off his hat without flourish or awkwardness, every inch the soldier.

“Ward is a hypocritical fool. I don’t know how you stand him, sir.”

“I don’t wish to discuss General Ward.”

“All the better. I await your orders.”

“Are the men standing to arms?”

“I think they fancy they are. No full battalion is under arms, much less a brigade.”

“Ride through the camp and send every battalion to the head of the camp. Tell them to line the road and prepare to march off to the right by companies.”

“Very well, sir. I took the liberty of sending your slave for your horse.” Lee saluted with his hat and withdrew, his spurs making a martial noise on the red pine floor.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
Virgil and the boy Jim slipped into the brush behind the log barn and crouched, safe in the green and screened by high grass. There were voices in the barn, all African. Jim started to move, but Virgil waved his hand.

“No rush, boy.” He listened, and in a moment heard the white woman’s voice from the cabin. Two whites, two slaves. And two extra horses. The extra horses grazing at the short grass beside the house’s chimney made him cautious, the more so as one had a long gun of some sort tied to the saddle.

“I got corn meal heah befo’,” said Jim, just audible. “Black folks is ol’. Whites is po’.”

He watched the clearing. Far across it against the other edge, the white man and the male slave were girdling a tree in a field where crops and stumps seemed evenly intermingled. Men laughed inside the cabin.

“They is too many men heah, Jim.” He turned his head as slowly as he could, but Jim was already gone.

He missed the boy’s ghostly advance through the grass, but saw him just as he reached the edge of the barn, and then there was no sign of him for a while, except that he noticed that the black female voices in the barn disappeared in a moment. Virgil checked his priming.

The woman who appeared around the log barn with Jim was the first that he had seen in some time, and that may have added to her appeal. She wasn’t wearing a jacket; most girls didn’t, in the little farms around the swamp. She had the sun full behind her and he could see the shape of her legs and most of her top through her shift, and her breasts, outlined in sweat, made him smile. She had a tiny, pointed face, too small for the body, but nice.

Jim had a small sack of meal; far more precious, he had a brass kettle like the ones the whites gave to Indians to store dried goods in. He was almost bouncing as he crossed the grass, and the woman stood with her hands on her hips and watched the boy go.

“Ol’ Nellie say those men be aftuh us!” said Jim, ducking into the brush. Virgil watched the girl, who walked along behind the barn with deliberate coquetry.

“You nevuh said they was a gal,” Virgil hissed.

“They wasn’t, las’ time. Maybe they bought her?”

“Ol’ lady say they slave-takuhs?”

“That what she say.”

“They got dogs?”

Jim looked guilty. “I didn’ ax.”

“Don’ fret. You done good on that kettle. If’n they had dogs, I reckon we’d know by now. We gone have to do some walkin’ round befo’ we goes to camp. Jus’ in case they follow us.” He smiled back at Jim and rose for a last look at that handsome girl, but she was gone.

“Let’s git.”

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

General Artemas Ward

Glover's Marblehead Regiment

He sat on Nelson and watched his army, a chaotic mob, as they attempted to form themselves in battalions. Men ran from company to company, yelling for their own officers; in fact, several approached him directly. Some had the sense to look for their militia banners displayed in the center of their regiments, but the lack of uniforms and the total want of standard places for assembly told against them. It was over an hour before he had six regiments formed and marching on the roads; he had failed to find any of the ranger companies that he knew abounded to scout the way, and the Massachusetts general officers were conspicuous by their glacial inefficiency or by their absence. It seemed possible that General Ward resented him more than he hated the British; it seemed that Israel Putnam was nowhere to be found. Washington sent his own aides as scouts to keep watch on the enemy, but eager as they were, they were untrained and talkative, and he waited in the summer sun, baking in his uniform, and watching his motley army of militia while imagining his outworks stormed, his camp taken, and his reputation ruined before he had learned the names of his own staff.

His six battalions marched slowly, the sixty different companies all marching with different steps when they marched at all. Gaps opened and closed all down the line, making any thought of complex maneuver impossible, and Washington began to wonder if he could actually form a line and fight if he had to. He could only hope that a show of force would be sufficient.

He rode up to Dorchester Neck at the head of his staff, the six battalions fifteen minutes behind him and strung out for a mile and a half. If the British were assaulting the Neck, he had fifteen eager gentlemen to stop them, all mounted. He was half-tempted to try, and avoid the consequences of disastrous defeat; indeed, he had thought of ordering the troops back to Cambridge rather than face the British with them. The truth of the battle at Breed’s Hill was obvious. Unless these untrained men were sent into entrenchments, they would never stand in the field, or even form; they lacked the ability to march up in column, form line under fire, and give their volleys.

But no thick red column ascending the Neck met his eyes. The Neck was empty. Away toward the British lines and their south battery, two companies of light infantry were drilling, their files extended wide. Washington was comforted to see that they did not appear overly proficient.

“Where is this column?” Washington looked over the Neck, relieved that he would not have to fight today with such a clumsy instrument. No one answered. A single understrength company of Marbleheaders stood farther down, where a rough tangle of felled trees had been thrown across the Neck to slow an enemy approach.

“Captain Poole’s company?” Washington asked, sitting his horse easily.

The man smiled and nodded.

“Where are the British?” Washington waved his crop down the Neck toward Boston.

Another man came up, smoking a pipe. “Oh, they formed up, right ‘nough. Jus’ a field day, I’d say. A walk in the pahk.”

“Where is your captain?”

“He went to find the Virginny general.”

Washington shook his head, and the smoking man wandered off. He rode back to Lee.

“Turn them around and march them home. Tell the general officers I want a complete muster and a complete return of military stores tomorrow.”

“What do you want me to tell the churchwarden, General?”

“I fail to take your meaning.”

“General Ward, then.”

“Tell him the same as the others.”

“He should have turned to with the rest. Sir.”

“That will be enough, General Lee. I mean to have absolute command, but I will not stoop to personal remarks about my officers.”

Lee, unfazed, looked back where the first four companies, hundreds of yards ahead of the rest of the column, were wandering toward them, each company a small crowd of men without formation.

“I imagine the only way to use them would be to ride up and down, showing each man his place and how to load his musket.” Lee laughed at his own sarcasm.

“On your way, sir.” Washington tried to sound cool; Lee both amused and irritated him. Lee swept him a bow from horseback and was gone.

It was a byword among farmers that often you had to make a tool before you could even start a job.

He would train the army and officers, and bring the Massachusetts men to heel. They would obey and respect, and men would not smoke pipes while talking to generals. It would all be a great deal of work, and it wouldn’t succeed if the British attacked him before any part of it was done. He headed back to Cambridge, already composing his notes on the drill of the army, but as he began to pass through the chaos of the leading battalion, a thought occurred to him and he pulled up.

“You there,” he shouted at a man in a good coarse smock and proper military equipment. The man looked something like a soldier.

“Sir?” The fellow at least had the sense to come to the recover, still the manner of a soldier.

“How many cartridges do you have, soldier?”

“Ten rolled, sir! Powder for six more.”

Sixteen rounds. Washington saluted and rode on, checking soldiers as he went. By the time he reached the end of the column, he knew his Massachusetts men a little better, and he knew they averaged only nine rounds a man.

Sometimes, before a farmer built a tool, he had to get the materials for it. Washington started a new set of notes. He was still dictating to his secretary when he climbed the stairs to his rooms and flung himself in a wingback chair.

“What can I get you, sir?” asked Billy.

“An army, Billy. Saving that, a staff of professional officers, sixty thousand rounds of ball cartridge, and ten thousand muskets.”

“I’ll just get goin’ then, sir.”

“I’ll settle for brandy and water.”

“They have ice from an ice house, sir. It’s prime.”

“Better and better. Iced brandy, then.”

Washington turned to his secretary. “I’ve led you a damned chase today, sir, and you’ve held up well. Put down the notes about sashes as badges of rank and then get yourself a glass downstairs. I won’t trouble you again today.”

The young man bowed and retired. In a moment, Billy returned, with a glass and some Naples biscuits. Washington devoured the biscuits and drank off half the glass. “They have no concept of discipline,” he said.

Billy polished a silver salver quietly.

“They do not seem to believe in subordination. Every man must have his say, no matter how half-witted.”

Billy nodded to him.

“I do not intend to discuss every notion of fortification with some Yankee captain who has read a book on the subject. Braddock may not have been the greatest general of the age, but his staff was a tool in his hand, an extension of him. He thought out the plans and gave orders. When will I reach a state where these men will obey me? I doubt that General Gage shares these troubles in Boston.”

“You want to get those boots off, sir?” asked Billy, unmoved by his master’s tirade.

“I thought that commanding this army would be like running a plantation, Billy. I would plan, dictate my orders, and the army would execute my designs. I’m not sure these men even know how to obey!”

Billy looked up from the boots and smiled. But he didn’t speak his mind, and Washington didn’t note it.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Powder Horn


Musket Ball Shot

Caesar peered through the fringe of magnolia at the arm of open water stretching north from their new camp.

“Where’s Virgil?”

“Don’ know.” Old Ben looked shifty when he said it, and he probably did know. Something was going on; all the men smiled when they looked at Virgil or tried to cover his absences. Caesar shook his head, and rose carefully to his feet, the fowler crooked in his arm.

“What are you all smiling at?” he said to the other men. “Come on. I’m gon’ teach you to use this gun.”

It was by no means the first attempt, and Virgil and Old Ben had at least passed the stage where the guns scared them, but Caesar was determined that they would all learn to use the fowler well, even the boy. In a corner of his mind, he had considered trying to hit the militia for more muskets; if he had one for every man, and they could shoot, he would have a force to be reckoned with in the swamp. The militia was wary, and hadn’t come as deep in after the first foray, as if by the killing of one slave they had justified themselves and could go home.

He led them, single file, well away from their camp to a sun-drenched clearing in the high tree cover. Some time back, a storm had knocked two big trees down, and their huge, dirt-clogged roots made pyramids at either end of a clearing long enough to run a horse.

Two men lit pipes and sat down, and the rest stood in a loose knot. Caesar wondered idly where the tobacco came from; he suspected it was of a piece with Virgil’s forays, but only today did it strike him that the tobacco smelled fresh. He also wondered if he should have a man out watching the trail from the settlements. That would have been Virgil’s job.

“Everyone look at this gun,” he began. “This is the butt, where you place her against yo’ shoulder. Not yo’ chest. Not yo’ arm. Like this.” He suited word to deed and tucked the fowler into his shoulder. He was quite familiar with it now, having fired it more times than he could count and killed any number of birds and several deer. He still preferred to get right up close to them, though.

“This is the lock. She make the gun fire, and she mus’ be dry an’ clean all the time. This part, with the flint, be called the cock.”

He looked up. Several men were smiling. Long Tom had taken out his folding razor and begun whittling at an old stick.

“Bigger ‘an yours is, Lolly,” Long Tom said.

Caesar rolled his eyes with the earnestness of the young and plowed on.

“The cock holds the flint. She strikes against the hammer, like this.” He pulled the trigger so that the flint in the jaws of the cock struck the hardened face of the hammer and made sparks. “Them sparks fall in the pan, heah…here, and touch off that powder.”

He took the small horn out of the pouch that had come with the gun, a tiny thing that barely filled his hand. He twisted the stopper out with his teeth and tapped the lip of the small horn against the pan of the lock until he had filled it with powder. Then he shut the hammer so that its “L” shape covered the pan, drew back the cock past half cock to full cock, and pulled the trigger. The cock flashed forward, struck the hammer, and snapped it back from the pan while making a shower of sparks that fell into the exposed pan. The priming powder went up with a small whoosh and a finger of smoke that trailed away over Caesar’s shoulder.

He held the priming horn and the fowler out to Jim, the youngest.

“You try, Jim.”

Jim set his face in a look of concentration made a little comical by the fact that throughout the operation his mouth opened and shut slowly like a fish under water. He balanced the long weapon in his hand and found it lighter than he had expected. Then he pulled back the cock as Caesar had told them and took the stopper out of the little horn and tapped powder. It took him a long time to get the right amount of powder, much longer than it had taken Caesar, and his careful attention was almost spoiled when he saw the mermaid carved generously into the little horn. Then he shut the hammer on the pan, raised the fowler to his shoulder, and tugged at the trigger, turning his face away from the expected flash of the priming. Nothing happened.

Caesar hit him lightly on the shoulder.

“Nevah turn yo’ face away.” He scowled for a moment. “Never turn your face away.”

Jim forced his head down over the fowler’s barrel, and pulled at the trigger again. The whole barrel moved, but nothing happened.

“You’re still on half cock,” said Caesar, indicating the lock.

“He still only got a half cock!” called Lolly, laughing.

Caesar glared at the man, and the laughter died slowly.

He knew he wasn’t old enough to give them orders, but none of them seemed to want to be in charge; they all simply wanted to make his life hard for trying to give orders. Joking when he was talking was common; if he fought it all the time, it just made things worse. Usually he laughed with them. Today, he wanted them to learn.

Jim pulled at the cock, and it came back far more easily than he had expected, clicking home into the full cock position with a small and sinister noise. Jim was afraid of the gun, and more afraid now that it was full of potential to fire; the cock looked ready to leap at the hammer with the smallest provocation. He was very hesitant when he pointed the piece; he jerked the barrel several inches when he pulled the trigger. But the pan flashed, and it didn’t burn him, and he felt a glow of satisfaction.

“You has to keep the barrel pointed at yo’ target. No pulling it. Like this.” Caesar aimed over the barrel and pulled the trigger, and the barrel stayed steady. Jim watched.

“When you can flash the pan without twitchin’, I expec’ I’ll give you powder an’ shot.” He smiled at Jim, then at the rest of the men.

“Jim can do it, I expec’ the res’ of you have no trouble at all.” Caesar held the fowler out like a dare. “Who wants to try next? No one wan’ to step forwar’?” He looked at them all. They weren’t scared; it was just that years of slavery had eliminated any tendency to volunteer. He looked at Lolly, the joker, sitting on a downed giant and puffing at the blackened stump of a clay pipe.

“Lolly. You try. Here.” He handed Lolly the fowler, and Lolly shrank away until he felt its sleek wood and the lightness of the thing, and then he held it with an almost proprietary air. Jim handed him the little priming horn, and Lolly smiled at him.

“There’s somethin’ I haven’ seen none of in a whiles!” laughed Lolly, looking at the horn and the mermaid’s breasts.

“I tink Virgil be lookin’ at dat now,” murmured Tom, normally a silent man.

Lolly was determined to excel, and he thumbed back the cock, pulled the stopper off the horn with his teeth, and primed the piece in seconds, then shut the hammer on the pan and pushed the stopper back into the horn and tossed it to Jim. Then he raised the fowler to his shoulder, seating it firmly where the muscles of the arm and shoulder knit together. The fowler looked tiny in his hands.

He pointed the fowler squarely at Caesar and pulled the trigger. The pan flashed, but no one laughed with him.

Caesar didn’t glare. He took the gun away from Lolly and looked away for a moment.

“Don’ never do that. Not even in fun. Man don’ know whether it be loaded or not. If’n the pan flash, man might turn some pair of breeches brown.” He said it all with such solemnity that it took them a moment to realize that he had made a joke of it. While they laughed, Lolly leaned over to him and hit him on the arm.

“Didn’ mean nothin, Cese.” He looked sheepish, as he always did when a joke went wrong or no one laughed with him.

“No harm done, Lolly.” Any rancor Caesar might have felt was expelled by the man’s obvious competence. Joking or not, he had watched and learned.

Next it was Old Ben’s turn; although he had fired the gun before, he wanted the practice. Caesar gave him a ball and enough powder to drive it; Ben had earned a real shot. He put powder in the pan, spun the musket in his hands and put powder in the barrel and pushed a ball down atop it, seated on a little patch of oiled muskrat hide. He had to push hard on the ramrod to seat the ball, and he looked carefully at Caesar’s mark on the ramrod to make sure the ball was fully seated. Then he took careful aim at the billet of wood across the clearing and fired. He didn’t hit the wood, but sandy soil flew in the sun close to his point of aim, if a little short. The others cheered his shooting.

Caesar swayed a little as he recovered the musket. He coached Tom through the motions of loading, but he looked green and seemed to be struggling with his body to stay upright.

“You sick, Caesar?” asked Ben directly.

“Somethin’ I ate. I feel like somebody kicked me.”

“You get out o’ the sun, then, an’ don’ be foolish.” Ben took control of the gun and its associated pouch and began to move the whole party back toward their camp. By the time they reached it, Tom and Lolly had to carry Caesar.

She never closed her eyes, not when he was in her, not when he stroked her, not even when she crooned to him at the end of her passion. But those odd golden eyes looked at him with some intent, and he could lose himself in their light. When they were in the half-dark barn, those eyes seemed to have a slight glow, like the last of a sunset, and the first time he had loved her, he had put a hand in front of her eyes to see if they really cast some light. It was like that for him; she scared him a little.

At first he had thought that tremor of fear came from his long abstinence. It had been a year or more since he had been in a woman—any woman at all—and his wife, a fine woman, had never had the fire this one had, or the shape. But as he came back for her again and again, against his own judgment, he began to be afraid that she had taken something of his soul, or had bound him. He even wondered if it was all the power of her eyes.

The men at the camp knew he was with a woman. Jim had been quick to tell them about the first encounter and had probably watched the second. Caesar didn’t know; he lay on a pile of brush under a bower in the camp, and they had to carry him back and forth to empty himself. Virgil tried not to think that Caesar was probably dying. He lost himself in her eyes again and reached beneath her to slip his hands under her and raise her body into his strokes. She liked to be touched constantly when he was in her, and pouted if he paid her too little mind, but she never talked. In fact, he didn’t know anything about her, except that the slave-takers owned her.

But just as he lost himself in the act again, that last thought burned through him, so that his whole body stiffened a little and she made a little grunting noise like a question. She was very good at reading him.

She belonged to the two slave-takers. He knew their names, now: Bludner and Weymes. And he wondered why two white men owned the most beautiful black woman near the swamp and didn’t use her.

It was his third time with her, and only now, at the brink of his own vast satisfaction, did he really wonder why she lay with him. It might have unmanned him completely—the icy hand of betrayal on his prick—but she opened her eyes wide, and her cunny gave a little pulse, as if grabbing him to her, and he was past his fear, and she seemed the only thing in the world. He pinched her nipples, hard, and held her face in his big hands, and they both spasmed together, beyond ecstasy for a moment. Then he didn’t know where she went; he went straight back to the fear of betrayal.

He rolled off her, stroking her with his left hand to keep her passive while he looked out of the long crack between the barn’s boards. He could see down into the yard. The old slave couple were willing conspirators, warning them when anyone approached the barn, but Virgil had known from the first that the old woman didn’t fancy young Sally one bit. Perhaps her man wanted Sally, old as he was. That would be no odd thing. Or perhaps Sally didn’t talk to the old couple any more than she talked to him. She was odd, a sort of magical creature, too handsome for the dirt and tangle of real life. Even now, as he watched for the two white men with the long guns and assumed that she had betrayed him, he wanted her.

“Them slave-takers comin’ fo’ me?” he asked, suddenly.

She turned her face a little away.

“Sally,” he started, and then couldn’t think of what to say. A profession of love didn’t seem appropriate; he lacked the will to threaten her. He turned her head to face him, and stared into those deep golden eyes that seemed guileless. “Sally, I need to know. Wheah ah they?”

“Don’ know.”

“Is they comin’ fo’ me?”

“They don’ wan’ you.” She turned on her side so that her heavy breasts rolled on to the straw, a movement that always caught his eye. She smiled when she saw how he watched her, even now.

“They know I’m heah?”

“They don’ wan’ you. They wan’ the otha’ man, the one killed all the white folk.”

“They know wheah he is?”

“They follow you, big man. An’ they wan’ follow you today, to be sho.”

He stopped stroking her. Somehow, she had said too much—enough to let him know how well she knew the slave-takers, how much of their plans she understood, how little she cared about him. He didn’t really expect her to resist them; it was too hard for a slave woman to resist a man, and he knew it too well. But there were other ways to rebel, and she wasn’t following them. He thought now that he could guess why the old woman disliked her. He pulled his breeches on and his shirt; he had laid the shirt under them to keep her off the scratchy old straw, and it smelled of her. She just watched him, naked. The first woman he had ever known for whom nakedness seemed to mean nothing, as if she preferred it to clothes. His wife had been much shyer.

“I won’ be back. You need to get clear of they two slave-takers, girl.”

“I may. Fat lot you know about me.” She wasn’t sullen, just direct, and again he wondered at how little he knew her. He still had one of their two pistols, and he checked the prime, stuck it in the back of his waistband. Then he jumped, caught a beam and swung to the hard-packed floor of the barn, avoiding the creak of the roped wooden ladder that let on to the little loft. He didn’t know where they were or how they were watching him; for all he knew, she was signaling them even now. That didn’t seem so bad, if he could get one of them before they got him, but he suspected they knew he was armed. He suspected they knew all about him. The barn had only one door and he slipped through it and into the tall weeds in seconds, expecting a rifle ball in the back as he moved, but there was no shot, no movement, no call for a chase. He began to breathe a little easier, and then he realized that there was no sound of voices anywhere; that the farmer and his old male slave were still in the field, but no one else seemed to be around. He had expected to find the boy, Jim, who waited for him every time. He wanted, suddenly, to know, and he looked for Jim in the brush at the edge of the clearing. Failing that, he moved as cautiously as he could into the brush pile behind the little windowless cabin where the two old slaves lived. He slipped up on the little cabin from the big cabin’s blind spot and scratched the door with a stick.

“Who theah?” called the old woman.

“Virgil,” he answered softly, going through the door.

“You best be off, boy.” She was cooking on her little mud hearth, making johnnycakes on a flat rock with some meat fat. They smelled delicious.

“You seen my Jim?”

“I seen more than Jim. Damn, all you young men is fools. They two men is followin’ yo’ Jim, and they’ll take him, an’ you too. All because you have to wet yo’ prick.”

Virgil felt his face get hot; it was like being admonished by his mother or aunt. But he could think quickly when it mattered, and he knew that the camp was in danger if Jim was running for it with the two whites on his trail.

“How long back did they start?”

“Half an hour. They took guns, boy. You bettah run.”

“I got a gun of my own, momma. You take care.”

“It’s that Sally, ain’t it, boy? She sets you up and they takes you?”

“She jus’ does what she has to, momma.” He couldn’t raise an anger for Sally; and the old woman really reminded him of his mother. Virgil found himself thinking about things he hadn’t troubled himself about since he came to the swamp. He shook his head as if to clear it of thoughts. He slipped out the door and back into the weeds, found Jim’s trail, and started to notice what he hadn’t seen before—clear sign of two big men in boots following the boy. He checked his prime again and set off at a run.

Up in the barn, Sally wiped herself with a bit of tow she kept to hand and then wiped her body with straw before she pulled her shift on, and then pulled her petticoats over her head and then over her breasts. She never liked taking a man in her clothes; it was so much nicer being naked. She wriggled a bit to settle the petticoat, and then pulled her strings taut and tied them off, and began to look for her pockets and her apron. The men who owned her didn’t care if she did a lick of work beyond what they kept her for, but she didn’t like to be called useless by a wise old woman like Old Sukey. She went down to the garden where Virgil had found her and got her hoe, humming a little in her throat.

Virgil ran and ran, slowing from time to time to listen to the swamp, or just to get his breath. After the third stop his breath was ragged and uneven, and he felt winded. He was in good shape, but the uneven diet told, and running in the swamp was as fatiguing to the mind—which had to make judgments every second—as it was to the body. He checked his priming again, tapped the powder back to the bottom of the pan, and moved off no faster than a quick walk. It was the best he could do.

Caesar squatted over his log, emptying himself into the pool of filth he had created over the last few days. It stank so badly that the other men went somewhere else. They were afraid of him, now—afraid of his fever and the death they all thought they saw on him. Sometimes, in the evening like this, he was pretty lucid; he could look around and see that he was not being chased through endless swamp by some nameless horror that had pursued him for days since the fever hit him. In the evening, the horror abated and he knew himself and the camp, although he was so weak he couldn’t raise his hands for water. And he seemed to want water all the time.

But the dream was still apparently with him tonight because he could hear Jim shouting something from the trail at the edge of the camp and then there was a shot. It wasn’t their fowler; it was a sharper bang, almost like a crack of lightning, and adrenaline put a little energy in his body, although it had taken the whole force of his will to drag his near-naked body from his pallet to this log.

Someone was screaming, and there was a second shot that cut off the scream like a knife cutting off the last squeals of a hog. Caesar threw himself forward and pulled his breeches up, trying in vain to button them and feeling filthy for not having wiped himself, but the unmistakable sound of a third shot, this one from the fowler, drove him on. He tried to crawl forward, but the effort was too much for him, at least for a moment, and he lay, still and defeated, and listened to the renewed screams from the camp.

He wasn’t sure if it was the dream or not, but for a moment a tall, ferret-faced white man was towering over him, pointing a little pistol at his belly, and he felt very alone. Then the man spoke, and it was all very clear and slow but not, terrifyingly, a dream.

“He’s skinny as a polecat, Mr. Bludner. Thin. Got the swamp fevuh. He’s dead already.”

“Leave him. We’ll get him when we round up the othuhs.” And the narrow face was gone.

Slave-takers. If he wasn’t in the dream, he needed to get away. If they knew he had killed Gordon, he couldn’t allow himself to be taken. He began to crawl toward the water, only a few feet beyond the trail. It was deep here—full of things, but deep. He pulled himself along and kicked with his legs, sweating away every bit of water his bowels had left him, and he heard the sharp crack of the rifles again, not far away in the bush, and then he was sliding into the water.

He had some distant notion of hiding. Indeed, he had little expectation of anything after he reached the water. But it was so cold that it seemed to wake him up and charge him with energy, and he swam out into the deepest part, where they bathed, and then across toward the green scum where the big fish and the biggest frogs lived on the far side.

Virgil heard the shots and knew he was too late, but he didn’t slow himself, bursting into the edge of the camp only a few moments after the first flurry of fire. He couldn’t tell, as Caesar could, the different pieces by their different sounds, but he was unsurprised to find Lolly lying dead in a vast pool of blood, his gut shot and a small hole in the middle of his face, right at the top of his nose. The back of his head was all over the inside of their little wigwam. His eyes were wide open. It might have made Virgil sick, but he was too angry, and he blamed himself. He ran on. Old Ben lay in the clearing, the old fowler fallen beside

him. He was mewling like a kitten, making pitiful noises every time he exhaled. Both hands clutched at his belly, which was caked in mud and blood and something worse, something gray that was leaking out of him. He didn’t scream. He just lay and made that dreadful noise. Virgil paused and looked at him, and then reached down and stripped the little pouch and horn for the fowler over the old man’s head. Old Ben didn’t resist, but he didn’t seem to know what was happening, either, and he let out a mournful sound when Virgil rolled him back on his side. Virgil tried to be gentle, but he knew he was hurting the old man by the time he got the powder horn. It had to be done.

He picked up the fowler and moved along the trail where, apparently, Ben had fallen while the others ran. The whites must be right on them, although the forest was somehow quieter. He moved to the edge of the camp and took shelter in the shadow of a giant tree, and elected to wait. He had learned this while hunting with Caesar: when you don’t know exactly what your quarry is doing, be silent and wait.

Something moved in the deepest part of the river, but he didn’t pay it much mind. Twice he heard voices, softly, but the day was fading fast and nothing seemed to get any closer to him, and then, suddenly, they were both in the clearing, and Virgil realized that it was much darker than he had thought.

“That thin boy crawled away.”

“No mattuh, Weymes. We kilt the old man with the gun. We’ll claim his bounty an’ the younguh one, too. We got the one I caught.” He laughed. “If’n they was all this easy, this would be a good an’ godly way to live, Weymes. Wheah’d you leave the one you tied?”

“Up the trail. Come on, Mr. Bludner. If you don’ min’ the swamp in the dark, I do.”

“I don’ think of you as a delicate flowuh, Brother Weymes.” The taller of the two men bent over Old Ben and cut his throat, then cut the whole top of the skin of his head away. The shorter man did the same to Lolly. Ben’s little moans had stopped some time since, and Virgil told himself that the poor man had been dead before his throat was cut, but the image of the act stayed with Virgil for the rest of his life.

Virgil thought of shooting at them, there and then, but they had the boy, Jim, and only they knew where he was. Virgil waited some more and followed the two white men when they started back. It was several miles, and they set a fast pace, clearly unconcerned with pursuit. Their contempt for any opposition from the black men burned Virgil like fire. He knew he was responsible for Ben’s death and Lolly’s, and he flamed with desire for revenge, expiation and freedom from the knowledge that he had killed his friends—perhaps killed them all.

He padded down the trail and thought about death.

He might have run right on them and died, he was so lost inside his own guilt. Then the sounds of the swamp changed, a subtle change, more of a lack than a presence, but Virgil felt it and he stopped, disoriented, and listened to the silence. A crow cawed away in front of him. Something had spooked the crow and everything else.

Ahead of him, Jim began to cry out in pain. Virgil was determined not to lose the boy, and he pressed on, no slower but with his attention focused on the task at hand. He saw a flicker of white among the trees, and then another. One of the men was in a shirt and the pale linen gave him away. They were stopped by a tree on the trail.

They were cutting the boy down from the tree.

He was almost on them; the boy was there, and his heart rose.

Virgil didn’t hesitate, or plan. He ran down the trail—better trampled today than ever before—until he came to the little space where it crossed two tiny streams in a dozen feet. The two whites and the boy were just beyond the streams, where the boy had been tied tightly to a swamp oak. His returning circulation caused him to flop on the ground with more force than he could have used in full control of his limbs, and for a moment he was free of his captors, though too far gone to help himself. He rolled and spasmed, the agony of the returning blood more powerful than any desire to run.

When Virgil was just a few feet from the taller man, whom Virgil had marked as the more dangerous, the man looked up and bellowed a warning. He tried to lever himself up from the crouch he was in and move back off the trail, but fell backwards, helpless and off balance. Virgil snapped his pistol in the big man’s face, and the prime flashed, but the barrel didn’t fire. Virgil kicked the man as hard as he could and whirled, dropping the pistol and looking for the little man, who was pointing a rifle at him a few feet away in the soft moonlight and smiling. The smile died as the man realized that his rifle was uncocked—that he had made a fool’s mistake and not reloaded after the last shot. Virgil’s fowler was loaded with shot, and the shot flew a little high in Virgil’s inexperienced hands, ripping into the man’s face and hands. He screamed, but he was not new to pain, and even as he fell he reached in his hunting pouch for a pistol. Virgil, his mind suddenly clear of doubt and his actions written out for him like morning orders, held the fowler, picked up the pistol he had dropped, plucked the crippled boy off the trail and ran into the dark. A shot barked at them, and then another, but Virgil clutched his precious burdens and ran.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

British Light Infantry Private of the 4th Regiment of Foot (King's Own) 1775

American Six Pounder Gun Crew

Washington sat atop his charger, his heavy greatcoat bundled about his ears, and regarded Boston through Charles Lee’s new Dollond telescope. It was a beautiful thing: wooden barrel twenty inches long and a fast resolution in the hand. Washington hadn’t owned a glass in the Pennsylvania wars. Truth to tell, there had seldom been a vista long enough to use one, through all the trees. This was a different type of warfare, a slow siege where logistics would matter more than tactics. Washington had the patience for a siege, and he wanted the time to train his army.

Incongruous thoughts of the season wouldn’t leave his head this morning. He wondered if either of his farms had managed a winter crop of wheat; he longed for a report from his manager. He thought of his farms every day and wrote advice to his overseers whenever he could.

Below him, spread like a printer’s study of an untidy siege, were the British lines; closer in, his own lines, stronger than they had been. The sentries, long-suffering militia or temporary “regulars”, had blankets, and one lucky fellow a watch coat. Watch coats were the proper military garments for winter sentries; they were coming, slowly, from Philadelphia. Washington centered his telescope on the three figures. One man was quite old; the other two were prime. They all had cartridge boxes. Washington smiled grimly. He would be lucky if they had ten rounds a man. Powder was still the critical element.

As he watched, a British field piece fired—a tiny white blossom of smoke against the bleak gray landscape and the darker lines of their revetments. None of the sentries moved. The ball fell just short, splattering them with mud, hopped a little on a short graze, and rolled over the harder ground by the parapet. One of the sentries leapt after it, placing rocks in its path to slow it. It was a small ball—perhaps a four-pounder, or a six. At this distance, Washington couldn’t tell, but he hoped the sentry wouldn’t be fool enough to try and stop it before it had lost more energy. Men had lost feet by such antics.

It stopped on its own, and the man flourished it triumphantly at his mates and carried it back to his post, where he put it on a small pile of shot. All three men appeared animated.

Washington folded the telescope and handed it to its owner.

“War does not seem to have a terrifying aspect today.”

Lee brought it to his eye in a practiced movement. He swept it over the harbor, then over the town, then slowly along the lines.

“That’s the King’s Own in the lines today,” he said. “Blue facings, and those well-cocked hats.”

Washington smiled. A sharp regiment. Both had noticed over the months the careful attention the Fourth gave to their uniforms and drill.

A wheelbarrow pushed by two men came down the road past Washington’s staff. Neither man saluted, particularly, although both inclined their heads in a civil enough way. They pushed their barrow down the long slope to the advanced post where the sentries were once again huddled against their fleche.

“If we allow these enlistments to run out, every watch coat and blanket we issue will be lost. It is not so much that we lose the army,” Lee was never at his best when talking about the Massachusetts men, “as the difficulty we endure in losing the arms and accoutrements.”

“Nevertheless, General, I wish to procure more blankets, and see them issued immediately.”

“Of course, sir.”

“How many requests have we written for blankets?” He turned and held out his hand for the glass again, and one of his staff dismounted and opened a saddlebag to retrieve a volume of the army correspondence. They had such volumes now, and daily returns for equipment and ammunition. The Virginia Farmer knew how many bayonets were available in every regiment (too few) and who had muskets with slings. That much he had accomplished, and just the lists had taken him a month. Equipping them might take years, and the pressure from Congress was mounting. He had to evict the British from Boston before they were relieved by a huge fleet and thousands of men who might break his lines and boil out into the countryside, or so the Congress feared.

Lee handed the glass over again.

“A very fine instrument, General.”

“Thank you, sir. I had it last week from London.”

Most of the staff were dismounted now, pulling at flasks or lighting pipes while they all ran through whatever documentation was handy. Washington insisted that when he was away from headquarters, business must continue on horseback. He smiled ruefully at the provenance of the telescope; his sword was from London, and his pistols, and much of his war material. So far, the war had served better than all George Mason’s sermons to impress on him how essential were the ties of trade between the American colonies and their mother country.

The wheelbarrow had arrived at the sentry post. The three sentries were helping the two other men load their collection of British cannonballs into the barrow. There were several calibers, four-pounders and six, and one larger ball that might have come from a ship in the harbor with her big twelve-pounders. One of the men with the wheelbarrow paid the sentries. Washington could see the paper scrip changing hands. He shook his head. The wheelbarrow began creeping crabwise across the hill, toward the small battery that the Massachusetts gunners had sited and built so laboriously in late August.

“General Washington?” An apple-cheeked staff officer with the diction particular to the graduates of the Yale Divinity school. Washington nodded courteously and looked down.

“We have written for blankets eight times, and watch coats twice, sir.” The man smiled, proud of the speed with which this gem of knowledge had been discovered and polished.

“Pray mention it in the draft for a ninth letter.”

Lee chuckled mirthlessly. “In time, there won’t be a farmer in this colony we haven’t provided for.”

“General Lee, I do not always find these remarks helpful.”

Lee turned his head, respect warring with an almost overwhelming desire to answer sharply and the struggle plain on his face. Washington put the glass back to his eye. He meant the rebuke, but hoped that Lee would accept it and not reply. General Lee was a first-rate soldier, and Washington could not imagine what the summer would have been like without him. Certainly, General Arnold’s expedition would not have been sent to Quebec even as late as it had been. If Washington now commanded the army, Lee commanded the staff.

The wheelbarrow had finally reached the distant artillery. Washington was warm from the waist down, where the heat of his horse bathed his legs and coat. Above the waist, the wind pushed through his coat and the salt sea air kept him damp and cold. His fingers were becoming painful in the mornings. He kept the glass to his eye, shutting out Lee’s possible insubordination. The Yale man was still by his stirrup. I should have held my tongue until we were alone. That was ill done.

The artillerists were loading their six-pounder. Washington knew it was the six-pounder because it was bronze, a captured French piece from the last war and one of the truest in the service, and the polished barrel glinted in the gray light. He could see the gun captain whirling his flaming linstock in the air over his head, a very martial sight that stirred Washington faintly.

The linstock came down across the breech of the gun and it responded instantly with a fine mushroom of smoke. The sharp “bang” of a good shot and dry powder followed a moment later. The depression of the shot was too low for anyone to follow its fall or its line, but within a few seconds there was a commotion at the British advance post. Washington looked at it through the glass. Three of the smart King’s Own men were gathered around a fourth, prone. Washington could see from the numbers that they had been changing the guard. The downed man was spasming hard, probably screaming, but his voice was lost in the wind and the distance.

“Hit with their own ball,” said Lee, in an odd, strained voice. He had friends in the British Army, but then, they all did.

Washington watched the British pickets making shift to move their wounded man. Every man of them had a watch coat, a musket, and a bayonet, made by the same mills that made most of his army’s equipment. There was blood visible on the mud, even at this distance, and Washington knew from experience that the human body held a prodigious amount of blood. The shot must have taken off a leg.

Washington handed Lee his glass and turned his horse away as the British artillery fired again.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
It took Caesar another week to break the fever, and he was thin and listless, gradually moving from total apathy about food to a raging hunger that he lacked the energy to satisfy. In his fever, he couldn’t imagine what had happened; during his daily moments of lucidity, he still couldn’t understand where the others had gone or where he was himself. Unbeknownst to his rational mind, he crawled every day in his fever, dragging his hot and exhausted body through the tangle of undergrowth in a circle, so that he never awoke from the fever in the same place.

When he finally came up from real sleep, listless but in possession of his faculties for the first time in days, he was unable to guess his location. He had nothing to hunt with and he couldn’t see open water where he might catch a frog. He tried eating the base of cat-tails but the bitter flavor made them hard to eat despite his hunger. They gave him a little energy, though, and he began to move north, as best he could, hoping to see something he would recognize. He had no reason to think he had drifted south from the camp, but he had to choose a direction, and north was the choice.

He was almost naked: his shirt gone, his breeches a ruin that barely covered his legs, no boots, no jacket, and caked in mud and the fine vegetable matter that lay over every inch of the swamp’s floor. He was growing desperate for water. He began to suspect he was going to die after all, having survived the fever. When he tried to think back, he couldn’t decide whether the slave-takers’ attack had been real or part of his fever, although logic suggested that it had to be real or he wouldn’t be alone in the swamp. That depressed him further, as it meant that he alone had survived. The utter defeat and extinction of his little band made him a failure as a leader, and he tried to think what he might have done better. He mourned the men, even those he hadn’t liked so well. He felt tremendous guilt. Eventually he stopped walking, although a fitter man would have heard from the bird cries that he was near open water. Caesar slumped down at the base of a giant ancient swamp willow. He didn’t so much sleep as surrender. His eyes, puffy and dry, were open but unfocused. He began to lean a little sideways, gradually slipping down the trunk, curling a little to ease the griping in his gut, sweat dripping off his nose.

He considered the possibility of standing up. It seemed reasonable. He was at the end, and death was near, and he decided that he would push himself up the trunk until he could stand if for no other reason than to spite the pain in his gut. And it occurred to him, as if from a distance, that despite his many failures and the ruin of his body, he was going to die free. That was worth something. He began to rise, slowly, almost glacially, and then with a mis-step and a stumble back against the trunk, he was erect.

The movement saved him. Jim saw it away across an arm of the open water, like a deer moving, and he ran around the water and found Caesar standing on trembling legs, rocking back and forth. Jim didn’t have the training to recognize that Caesar had a ghost spear and a ghost shield and was holding them ready. Jim couldn’t see that, but he could just see that it was Caesar—his hero, almost his god—and in minutes Caesar was gulping water from a stolen leather fire bucket in a new camp. He was alive.

It took him another week to recover, with food brought to his side every day. Virgil tried to keep the story of the slave-takers from him, but day by day he learned the whole of it, from the apparent treachery of the woman to the last shots in the woods.

“How bad was they hurt?”

“Little one hu’t bad, Caesar. I shot he face off!” Virgil was anxious to expiate the sin he had committed. The lives of Old Ben and Lolly were heavy on him, and he had buried them in the old camp with good crosses over them, although Lolly had not been a Christian man at all.

“What about the woman?”

“I won’ be goin’ to her again, Caesar.”

Tom was sitting on a stump, whittling with his long razor knife. He looked up and laughed bitterly.

“She’ll be long gone wi’ them slavers, you ninny. How’d a boy like you grow up so simple, Virgil? She was jus’ honey to catch flies.”

“How bad was the othuh, the other, one hurt, Virgil?”

“Jus’ roughed up, I think. I kicked him pretty ha’d in the weddin’ tackle.”

“So they won’ be back after us right away?”

“No. No, Caesar. We safe fo’ a whiles.”

“Time to move again, though. We should go north. We haven’t been north in a long time. If they send militia, they look fo’ us down here, I think. An’ we need to hit a farm.”

Long Tom looked at the pistol in his lap. He hadn’t fired a shot at the slave-takers, and he was in a mood.

“We should hit that farm that this fool an’ the boy keep goin’ to.” He waved his hand. “They gave them slave-takers a home. Let’s burn ’em out and take what we want.”

Virgil stirred. “They got black folks, and them slaves has helped us and helped us. We burn that farm an’ who’s gonna pay for it? Them black folks. I say no. I say we steal something, or just ax for it from the ol’ woman. But burn ’em out ain’t fair.”

“He got happy memories o’ that place,” sneered Tom. The others murmured assent. They wanted blood.

Caesar rolled off his fern pallet and looked around, his eyes still bloodshot.

“We will go to the farm. We will not burn it!” He looked around at the survivors. “If we burn it and kill the farmers, we will jus’ draw the militia after us. Let’s jus’ take what we need an’ git. We might make it free that way. Tom, you shut it. You jus’ jealous that he got somethin’ you didn’. Now everyone jus’ go sleep. We’ll do it tomorrow.”

The survivors of the band grumbled, but they went. And Caesar, still miserable over the losses, puzzled to figure out why he was still in charge.

They moved well, the remaining men almost silent on the trail and then moving up to the back of the pole barn. There were no horses in the little paddock, and the only smoke came from the slave cabin. The white man wasn’t pulling stumps, either.

Jim led the way to the back of the barn and then darted across the yard to the slaves’ cabin, where he knocked quietly. Then he disappeared inside. He was gone long enough for Tom and Virgil to check their priming, for Caesar to start to sweat from the exertion. He was out of condition and needed to eat better. He was still thin. The size of his forearms startled and disgusted him every time he looked down—like sticks. The weight of the fowler on his arms was enough to make him want to lie down.

The door opened and an old black man emerged, clearly BaKongo, with Jim following behind and hopping along with excitement. The old man came up the edge of the barn and stopped, peering into the bush.

“No one heah but us, boys,” he called, and Caesar moved carefully into the open, well covered, he hoped, by the two pistols.

“You do look a sight, mistuh,” said the old man when he saw Caesar’s scarecrow figure draped in rags. “You boys been livin’ hahd!”

“That we have, old man.” He was old, too, with most of his head white; yet he still glowed with vitality like a village elder. Caesar was respectful of his age and knew that Tom and Virgil would be the same.

“Since the Man and Missus ran off, we got bacon.” The old man smiled. “Come in an’ have some.”

A regiment of slave-takers couldn’t have stopped the rush for the cabin.

“That scatterbrained gal left with those men,” the old woman said while she laid another few slices of bacon on her griddle. Then she busied herself pouring the fat into a little betty lamp on the hearth.

“Ain’t had this much fat since I can’ remember when.” She sounded almost smug.

“What abou’ Sally, ma’am?”

“Don’ you ma’am me, you cock turkey! She gone off with they louts wha’ own her, and good riddance, though I mus’ say she did work she didn’ have to. They kep’ her for her coney an’ nothin’ else, an’ that’s hard on any gal, so I shouldn’ talk mean. But I ain’t sorry to see her gone.” She looked a dagger at her man. He laughed as if it were a compliment and went back to entertaining young Jim. Long Tom was fast asleep, full of corn meal cakes and bacon, and Caesar had a hard time staying awake himself, although it was clear that Virgil still wanted to know where his Sally had gone.

“Why’d the white folks here run off?”

“Afeared! An’ of you, I reckon. You hurt that mean little fella bad. He los’ an eye an’ I’m not too sure but he’ll die. That othuh one, that big fella…He was beat! Lef’ heah like a whipped cur. Said there was twenny of yous, an’ you was right behin’ him. The Man, he jus packed his mule and tol’ us to stay put an’ lef. But we heard othuh tales from Sally, too.”

The old woman’s head shot around. “What othuh tales, missuh? What you heah fro’ that gal that I don’ heah?”

“You don’ know everythin’, now do you, Sukey?”

“I don’ take gals fo’ no rides in the hay now, do I? An’ that gal young enough to be my granddaughter? I imagine she said things under her shift that she don’ say to no ol’ woman with a hoe.”

The old man just shook his head and chuckled.

“I think you tryin’ to flatter me, woman.” He looked at Caesar. “Sally says that they’s rumors that the governor in Virginny is gon’ free the slaves to fight for him agin’ the farmers. You know ‘bout that?”

“We heard something like that back some months.”

“Yeah, well now seems to be fo’ sho. Sally said they was gon’ have a proclamation in Williamsburg. I ask her how she know and she jus’ rolls that bottom and smiles.”

“They slave-takers came heah fro’ Richmond. They knew a few things, too.”

“They said they came to take the bounty ‘cause all the militia is gettin’ ready to go aftuh the governor.”

Caesar tried to assimilate all this. He tried to sound the old man out on the sides forming up in this war, but to the old man it was just the governor and his soldiers against the back-country farmers.

“Same thin’ happen a few years back,” he said, leaning forward over the hearth to light a pipe. The night was dark and the cabin completely without light except the little betty lamp burning a scrap of rag in the fat above the fire’s last coals. It was deadly hot in the cabin, but no one seemed to want to leave it for the cooler outdoors, at least not while there was well water, tobacco, and bacon to be had.

“Farmers down south decided not to pay the Carolina Assembly taxes. They got an army together. Then Tryon, he the governor, he gets an army loyal to the assembly an’ kicks they tails right back into the mountains. He threatened to arm the slaves, too. But he didn’.”

“Will Dunmore do it? Will he free an’ arm the slaves?”

“I don’ know him that well, boy!”

Tom laughed in the half-darkness on the other side of the hearth.

“Virgil? Tom? What do you say?”

“Say to what?”

“That we get us going up to Williamsburg an’ see if we can join Governor Dunmore?”

Tom laughed his cynical laugh. “Then we can be the militia an’ hunt white boys in the swamp! We’d be good at it, too.”

Virgil was less assured.

“Long way to Williamsburg. Lot o’ bad men between heah and theah.”

The old man’s face showed for a moment in the dark as he sucked on his pipe and the coal glowed.

“You jus’ go quiet, you be all right, I reckon. If all the white folks is as scared as these,” he waved his pipe toward the larger cabin, “an you take care, you ought to get theah.”

“Don’ have to decide tonight,” Caesar said, walking to the door in search of a breeze. But he had already made up his mind.

“You jus’ wan’ go an’ follow that gal!” Long Tom’s head hurt and he was not happy that they were heading straight off in the morning, away from what he saw as free food and an easy life.

Virgil so obviously wanted to follow the girl that it was pointless to argue. Caesar left them to it and went to the white cabin, where he lifted the latch and went in. There wasn’t much left but the furniture and some food, although he got enough powder in a keg to fill his horn and the little mermaid horn as well. And he took the man’s clothes. They didn’t fit him well, and the breeches were almost like trousers, the man had been so tall. He hadn’t left any shoes, and he’d taken his greatcoat. There was a small woman’s cloak, and Caesar took it. Virgil hoisted out a side of bacon and cut it in half with a sharp little ax he found, and gave the half of it to the old black couple.

“Tell ’em we held you at gunpoint.” Tom laughed. “Stand and deliver the bacon!”

Young Jim picked up a shovel and an old pack, which they filled with corn meal and made him carry. With the corn meal and the bacon, they were good for five days, more if they skimped, though Caesar doubted that they would. He had them on the road before the sun was very high, walking quickly as the shadows shortened and the bugs came out. Somehow the stinging ones seemed thicker on the little one-hump trail than in their own heart of the swamp. Jim, used to moving unencumbered along the trails of the swamp, thought he was going to drop under the burden of the pack and the torment of the bugs.

Every time they heard a sound they melted into the woods, turning ankles on roots in their hurry to clear the road, but they never saw another soul, and by the end of the long day they were too tired and footsore to care. None of them had even a scrap of shoe left, but the swamp had not hardened their feet even enough to deal with the soft mud that made the road for most of its length, as it still had rocks and pebbles and gravel where farmers had filled the wettest spots.

They passed six farms, most of them new. All were abandoned. One farmer had left his slaves, but they were as scared of Caesar’s runaways as they were of whites and wouldn’t unbar their doors. At the last empty farm, they tried the door but found the bar across, and slept well in the barn. An early winter rain on the shingles woke them, but they were dry. Jim built a little fire that barely smoked the rafters and made bacon, and they wasted the day. Caesar encouraged it; they were as safe as they ever might be again, and dry and well fed, and he needed the rest. They had come a long way the first day. They had a very long way to go.

The third morning they moved on again. Their track was punctuated with crossroads and bypaths that confused them more and more. When the road forked or offered a branch, Tom or Virgil would run off down it a bit and come back and describe what he had seen. Then they would all decide, although Caesar’s vote began to hold more and more weight as he was proven correct. He wasn’t infallible, and one of his choices came to a dead end in a clearing with a tiny plot of vegetables and the start of a cabin. It had been abandoned, and wasted them a mile of walking, but it was well off the road and safe, and he decided that they would make camp there. They built a big fire and piled brush over the cabin’s base to make a hut. Caesar got two rabbits with as many shots—a poor use of powder, but he had enough for the moment and refused to worry overmuch. The shots were loud in the wild silence and somehow made him tense, but he was tired of the bacon and wanted to make it last. They were wandering lost at the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp, and until they got clear, he would be worried about the food and the threat of pursuit.

It wasn’t a good night, but it wasn’t impossible to sleep, although Caesar’s new breeches had chafed him unmercifully and he couldn’t find a way to lie easy. They didn’t fit at the crotch at all. None of them had a needle and thread, either; that was all gone with Old Ben. They talked about him and Lolly, and even Fetch—all their dead. Caesar worried a little about Jim; he was seeing too much death for his age. He wouldn’t be right, later. But the boy seemed cheerful enough, delighted with the notion that he was going to be a soldier. It was a cold night, and they had no blankets. They all huddled in a ball together and slept by turns, those on the outside too cold to sleep, those on the inside warm but crushed.

In the cold and wet of early morning, it was hard to get them to move. The walking kept taking its toll, and the tedium of constant anxiety was sapping their desire to go to Williamsburg at all. They were all tired from bad sleep, and a little hungry all the time. The wet was new. Their camps in the swamp had been snug. The rain was hard on their brush shelter and beginning to drip through, the drops cold on Caesar’s skin as he considered the others, mumbling to each other as they tried to crawl deeper into the shelter for warmth. He let them lie a while, and the rain brought warmer air. Caesar stayed awake. Four days of walking and good food were building him up. He felt better than he had since the fever hit. After a bit he threw the woman’s cloak over Jim and got up into the light rain and cleaned their pot with ash from the fire, a very rudimentary job. Then he wiped down his fowler, checked his pouch, gathered their few belongings, and woke them all up. In a few minutes, they were shambling off back up the track to the road, although Virgil slowed them while he fetched a coal from the old fire and tried to get his pipe lit. As soon as they reached the road, they were faced with choices of direction.

Caesar looked at the three paths headed off into the endless trees. “They all go north, now.”

“Right enough.” Tom had a strong sense of direction.

“Williamsburg is north and then some.”

“And across the bay, too. How we gon’ cross the bay?”

“Deal with that when we get to it. I reckon we can get a boat, or steal it.”

He looked at the three trails and reached out for Virgil’s pipe, which was lit and making the round. He didn’t usually smoke, but it helped his energy, and it kept the flies at bay.

“I figure it’s time to go east a bit. So we take the right.”

No one argued, and off they went.

By the end of that day, Caesar was growing tempted to head across country even if it meant facing the wet edge of the swamp. The trails and roads at the edge of the cultivated parts of Virginia were so unmarked, so empty, and so winding that he feared they might be going in circles. The added fear of discovery settled the issue. After a warm camp and no rain, they set off across country the next day, leaving the rough roads. The shortage of food that now worried Caesar was a cause for Jim’s secret rejoicing; the wallet of corn meal was three-quarters empty and no longer hurt him to carry. Virgil’s quarter of bacon was well down, too, although it still drew a cloud of flies every time they stopped.

Perhaps because of the lightened loads, or perhaps because they really were out of the swamp, they moved north quickly, and nightfall found them on the edge of a big plantation, the first they had seen. Caesar gave the word, and after a hasty meal in the woods they moved in the dark across the fields. No dogs barked, although the houses they saw now were lit. They clutched their guns and moved as quietly as they could, every one of them conscious that capture with a gun in hand would mean certain death. When they were too tired to go further, Caesar kept them at it past several lesser farms until they reached a wooded break extending off into the dark on both sides. The trees were large, and Caesar thought the area had been left for the master to hunt. All the better. He led them in on a deer path, and in an hour, the rising sun found them buried in fresh fall leaves, warm and asleep.

He wouldn’t risk the smoke from a fire when they awoke. They grumbled, but thirst drove them out of the woods before the sun was fully set, and they slipped down to the stream at the base of a long shallow ridge. The water was brackish and muddy from recent rain, and Caesar didn’t want to drink it, but he did. They all did. The sun went down in a blaze of color, somehow startling after the swamp. Sunsets happened in the swamp, but far away above the ever-present trees. The open country stretched away, beautiful and alien after the limited horizons they had lived with for months. They all stopped together in silent wonder. They sat on rocks under the bank of the little stream and watched the sun until the western sky showed only a faint trace of pumpkin afterglow and stars, and then Caesar led them away.

They moved in better moonlight that night, as the half moon was tending toward full. Caesar couldn’t remember the moon waning, and he could only figure that he had lost some time in his fever. Superstition and the sunset tried to tell him that time might pass differently out of the swamp, where things were open and it was harder to hide.

He didn’t want to try the loyalties of other slaves as they passed plantations and farms. He was afraid of betrayal and afraid that any slave who helped him would be dead if his own little band were caught and questioned. But as they headed a little east and stayed parallel to the road he knew they needed a fire and food. They had about one good meal left.

He led them east for half a day and got into some trees along another little muddy creek. It was miles from the nearest house and the country seemed wild. The last plantation was two days behind and they had seen only scattered cabins. Caesar judged it safe to build a small fire and cook the rest of the bacon. He risked a shot at a goose on the water, which Jim swam out and retrieved. They didn’t do a thorough job of cooking the goose, but it was fatty and it fed them, with the bacon as a breakfast, and corncakes to fill in the nooks and crannies. Grumbling decreased immediately, although Caesar knew they were at the end of the food.

He had a hazy idea that Williamsburg was on the other side of the bay; that much he remembered from the day when he had sailed into the Chesapeake as a new slave. He had no idea how they were going to cross that huge body of water, and he knew that it was miles around and with many inlets, bays, and rivers, all populated by slave owners. This was Tidewater, the heart of plantation country. By comparison, the Great Dismal Swamp was a haven. They were going to need food before crossing the bay. Caesar felt that the obvious solution would be to kill and butcher a big animal like a deer, if any could be found, and he was out early looking at the ground. What he found was both good and bad.

They were all awake when he returned, a tiny fire burning among the roots of an old oak. The smoke ran right up the tree and got lost among the branches, a good trick they had learned in the swamp. It didn’t cover everything, though.

“Smelt that fire a mile away,” he commented acidly as he entered their little camp.

“We kept you some tea, an’ it’s hot,” said Jim. He didn’t seem apologetic for the fire. They didn’t really believe that anyone would be looking for them, thought Caesar. Every one of them had been pursued, or had fought the slave-takers, and yet they didn’t really believe.

“There’s tracks down by the creek,” he said. “Man tracks, in boots.”

“Dogs?” asked Virgil. He was suddenly more alert.

“No dogs. But three men, moving fast. They went off north and east, the way we have to go.”

“Boots means white men,” said Tom.

“That it do. I saw deer tracks, too, over the hill.”

“Can’t shoot no deer while there’s men out there.”

“I’m goin’ to see if I can do jus’ that, friends.”

“We should all go.”

“Nope. I’ll take Jim. He’s the quietest. Virgil, you an’ Tom stay here, don’ make much fire, and keep your ears open. We need a place to go if we get spotted. Build us a frame to hang a deer and sharpen the knives. We need the meat an’ I’m goin’.”

It was a long speech, for Caesar. He sounded firm and decided, and none of them saw much point in arguing. It was the way he had—sure of himself, and sure of others. Jim followed him with the eagerness of a young dog, and Virgil rubbed out the little fire. Tom pulled out his razor knife and picked up a branch.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

American Soldier 1775

George Lawrence was a picture of martial ardor. He wore a fine blue coat with scarlet facings, like the Virginia Provincials had worn under Washington in the war against the French except cut in the latest style, with narrow lapels and less cloth everywhere. Followers of the military arts knew that this style reflected the growing military passion in Europe for all things Prussian; Frederick the Great had decreed that there would be less material in coats.

Lawrence had never paid much attention to his Latin or Greek, and his knowledge of mathematics was not on the firmest ground, but he had devoured all the military science that the booksellers of Williamsburg and London had to offer, against the day when he would don a uniform. And now he commanded a company in the Virginia militia. It was a start on his path to better things. In Boston, George Washington, another Virginian, was the commander in chief of a real Continental Army, the regular army of the colonies. Lawrence aspired to command a company in that army. To win the trust of Virginia would require success in Virginia and money. That started right here, at the recruiting table, where he was completing his company with any decent body he could get to sign the bill and take his bounty. Not every company offered a bounty, but he had the money, and it allowed him to pick and choose a little more.

His recruiting table sat in the yard of the King’s Arms Tavern, the best tavern in the town. No one else had yet seen the humor in the conflict between the name and his purpose, but he smiled every time he looked at the sign. Englishmen—that is to say, bankers and brokers—had driven his father to bankruptcy, broken them as a family, and taken their plantation. Patient work and a great deal of luck had restored the family fortunes through trade, but George never forgot the attitude of his father’s London brokers. They were greedier than Indians, and more rapacious. That is how Lawrence saw Parliament in London: as a group of brokers and bankers seeking to do unto America as Bailey and Callis, Brokers, of Bristol, had done to his family. He would raise men at the King’s Arms, but the arms they would bear would be against the king.

On his table lay broadsheets advertising the rates of pay and a rather hopeful view of the possibility of land grants at the end of the war, as well as the bounty and the country’s need. His best sergeant, Rob McCoy, sat behind the table in the same blue coat with red facings, a powerful image of martial splendor. Behind him stood Lawrence’s drummer, a young black, in reversed colors, a red coat with blue facings. Few of the militia companies had drummers, and even fewer had the money to ape European professionals and provide their musicians with reversed color clothing, but Lawrence was a stickler for such things. Besides, the boy was free and quite a talented drummer; with the coat, he got as many admiring stares as the sergeant.

Captain Lawrence nodded at the drummer, young Noah. “Point of war.”

That was the black boy’s great talent; he had actually spent so much time around the military camps that he knew most of the military beatings. He could beat for firewood details and signal officers’ call. He lengthened his captain’s reach beyond the sound of Lawrence’s already powerful voice. Lawrence spoiled him, because next to his veteran sergeant, the boy was the most valuable member of his company.

The boy smiled and the drumsticks flashed as he raised them beside his head, held them rock steady for a moment, and then brought them down like thunder on the taut skin of the drumhead. He rattled through the point of war like a regular army drummer, and every head on the street turned to watch.

“Serve your country and earn the bounty!” called McCoy. A piece of silver flashed in his hands.

“Five shillings hard specie! Drink to Virginia on the colony’s money! Preserve your rights against the grasping king! Drive Dunmore into the sea!”

It was as much excitement as the market town had seen in a long time. Rural Virginia didn’t see a great many fine laced coats, or drummer boys, or martial sergeants. Men began to come around, reading the proclamations and broadsheets on the table from a safe distance.

The first recruit they attracted here was typical: George Lake, an apprentice. He was healthy and fit, not indentured, and had enough teeth to bite a cartridge. He didn’t own his own weapon, which cost him part of his bounty, but he still got two shillings and a place to sleep. He looked intelligent and delighted to be part of the army. Once Lawrence had his name on the books and had given him his bounty in cash, he asked the young man if he would stay with the company if it were taken into the Continental service. The boy replied that he was sure he would.

“I do long to see the world.”

“Can you read, George?”

“I can read some, sir.” Lawrence let him go, wishing he could have a dozen such. The boy left, glowing, to find more friends to join.

After the first man tested the waters, there was a rush—a mix of patriotism and economic necessity, as the poorer classes who had been hardest hit by the troubles with England rushed to the bounty and the hope of regular pay. There were other recruits, too: several decent yeomen’s sons, and one young man who himself owned property, a small farm in the local red soil. Lawrence took him aside and ascertained that he came from the Carters, a distant relation, and that his people were prominent in this part of the county. Lawrence was holding his lieutenant’s commission vacant for a friend, but he was allowed two ensigns. He had heard that some of the militia companies were electing officers and sergeants, but he had no intention of letting such rot spread in his own company. He wanted them to be like regulars, and hoped that he would be able to place the whole company on the Virginia establishment, or better, the Continental establishment, when he had filled his roster. So it was natural enough that, although this young farmer was willing to join in the ranks, Lawrence took him aside and offered him a commission, which the man instantly accepted.

He filled a platoon in the morning, although a few of the men who took the bounty were sorry men who would make dismal soldiers. Most, however, were strong men, farm labor, with some experience of arms, or eager boys like George Lake. Lawrence liked Lake. Good material.

The afternoon was slower, as he expected it would be. Most who would join did so in the first rush; those who went home to have a think seldom came back. The original militia raised by the counties had all the best local men already; it was the additional companies that had to complete in this difficult and expensive way. Lawrence was already doubting what he had heard, that the Continentals were going to have to recruit from scratch as well, and not out of the militia. Farms still had to be farmed, and magistrates could not all go off to be officers.

He sat well back from the table and drank sherry as the afternoon wore away, unaffected by a pint or so, and tolerably happy with the success he had. At two by his big silver watch he went in and dined, and sent good meals out to the sergeant and the drummer. By three they were all tempted to doze off, and Lawrence kept the drummer at it to keep them awake.

“Find us a fifer, lad!” he kept saying. “There must be a blackie here who can play the fife!”

And the boy would smile, a little shy, and look away.

Sergeant McCoy thought that they should take their recruits and march away.

“Rendezvous at the camp is in two days’ time.”

“We can get there in a day, Rob, and every man we have at muster is going to be gold when we have to fight. This town’s been good to us; give it the afternoon. And don’t be in such a rush to leave the comfort of a bed. Especially when it comes with something in it, eh?”

McCoy laughed mechanically. The captain may have had something bouncy in his bed; all McCoy had for companionship were little biting bugs.

“Let’s see if we can’t complete the company. We’ll march in the morning.”

Just after three, two men rode up to the tavern on spent horses. They looked badly used: one had his face swathed in dirty bandages, and the other rode with his knees up so high that he looked like an old sack on a tall horse. The two men had a look of meanness that might have deterred normal approaches, but it was like an invitation to the recruiting sergeant.

“Do you gentlemen fancy five free shillings hard currency?” Sergeant McCoy held up his big fist with the money.

The taller man smiled a little. “Milishee?”

“That’s right.”

McCoy could see that there was old dried blood on the filthy bandage that the smaller man had on his face.

“Could have used you boys in the swamp. Had a set-to with some runaways.”

“We aren’t being raised for slave-taking, friend. We’re raised to fight the Governor, drive the British out of Virginia.”

The taller man nodded. “Regular pay, though?”

“Regular as clockwork, friend, and paid every week. Victuals at the colony’s expense and the best of living for every soldier.”

“Save it, Sergeant. I’ve served with the milishee before, an’ so has Mr. Weymes here. No one ever offered us no bounty, though. I think we’ll sign.”

“You both have your own weapons?”


“And horses?”

“You ain’t blind, is you? Them’s our horses, then.”

The other man opened his mouth and then shut it, like a fish. No noise came out for a moment, and then he opened it again.

“Our black girl runned off.”

“Pay him no mind.”

“They the milishee, Bludner. You tell ’em about our black girl, Sally.”

“We’re joining the militia, Weymes, and we’ll find her in our own spare time.”

“Make your mark, here, and here. And I’ll sign for your horses and arms.”

“I don’ have to make no mark, boyo. I can sign my name.”

Lawrence had never liked back-country ruffians, and he stood up smoothly and walked forward.

“If you want to serve in my company, keep a civil tongue in your head.”

Bludner looked at him, meeting his eye unblinking. They stared at each other for just a moment—too long, in Lawrence’s book, but not long enough to count as open defiance. Then Bludner bowed his head, a quick, jerky motion—a man who retreated before superior social position but reserved judgment.

“I’ll ax your pardon then, sir. Didn’ mean no harm. Just plain talk. I ain’t ignorant.”

On the whole, Lawrence liked him now that he had retreated. And men who could read and write were too rare. Perhaps Bludner would make a corporal; he had the skills. The little man looked like death, though, and Lawrence didn’t think he’d last long.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

British Loyal Ethiopian Regiment 1775

They didn’t really follow the deer tracks, as Caesar had a strong idea that the deer were headed across the little creek and up the flat ground toward the next little wooded ridge. He could neither see nor smell a cabin, and yet the fields looked like they had been tilled at one time. They might have been over-used; Caesar knew tobacco could play the soil out. But it seemed odd that Washington and others were trying to drain the Great Swamp while there was good ground like this right near the coast. It didn’t stand to reason. The red earth showed through the early fall stubble of browned grass and weeds shot through with the stillvibrant green of autumn thistle. He followed the deer by watching the ground, sometimes confirmed by bent grass and the occasional deep mark in the soft soil.

The deer had stopped suddenly; that much was plain. Caesar thought he knew why and in a moment the smell of blood and ordure made it obvious. Someone else had killed the deer, right here. Caesar suddenly felt hunted himself, down in the low ground between two ridges, and he was stooped to the ground in the dry grass before he had given it any thought. Jim flattened out beside him.

“I smell smoke.”

Caesar had scented something several times, well away to the north, carried on the wind. He wouldn’t call it smoke, just yet.

“I smell something, right enough.”

“Someone else killed our deer.”

“Like the man who owns the ground. Shush now.”

He lay still for a while as the morning passed away toward noon, and nothing seemed to move. He felt hunted, and he couldn’t lose the feeling. He had checked his priming too many times. He had to move, although his instincts were to lie low.

Or were they telling him that the threat was to the camp? He was suddenly haunted by the image of the slave-takers appearing during his fever. He couldn’t let that happen again. He raised his head, and a little eddy of breeze brought him another smell of fire.

“Somethin’ burnin’.” He nodded over the ridge. “We got to know. Stay quiet.”

He moved as quickly as he could over the rest of the autumn grass to the base of the ridge and started up it, his heart easier with cover over his head and his back. It was pure panic that led him to worry about Tom and Virgil; no one could have got round him and Jim, leastwise not with enough men to take his friends. He climbed up the ridge, his legs pumping him over fallen timber, his footsteps light on the leaves and broken branches. Jim was just as quiet. When they crested the hill, they saw a line of fires off west, less than a mile away and mostly showing as smoke in the afternoon light. Beyond the line of fires was a low ridge with cabins, tents, and brush huts, and another line of fires. As far as they could see at the distance, there were no patrols.

“Is that the governor’s army?” asked Jim. He sounded eager.

“I don’t think so. I don’t see no red coats.” It struck Caesar then that if the governor had enough redcoats, he wasn’t going to need black soldiers.

“We need to get closer.” The ridge gave an excellent vantage point of the ground to the north, and Caesar saw another, several miles away and even higher. He crept back away from the opening he had used to look north and across the summit to the south side, where he could clearly see the little creek and the small ridge where Tom and Virgil were. Then he looked out to the east, where the ground was broken by patches of cultivated land and woods. He slipped back into the cover on the north slope and lay there for almost half an hour, watching the sun angle change and the movement in the distant camp. Men came on horseback, and tiny figures moved about, although no one seemed particularly on guard.

At his feet, a tiny watercourse ran into some low ground to the northwest. Beyond that, across a few hundred yards of muddy fields, was a patch of woods, the woodlot of a small cabin well off to the west.

“Jim, you go on back to the boys and tell them to be ready to move. We’ll be going hard tonight and there won’t be no food unless they gets it themselves.”

Jim nodded soberly.

“I think that’s the militia, a whole army of slave-takers.” He nodded his head. “Gon’ make sure, and meet you back to camp.”

“I could come with you.”

Caesar smiled. He suspected that Jim could do this better than he could himself, but he couldn’t order a boy to do something like that, because Jim would do it in a flash, with no thought to the consequences.

“You could,” said Caesar, and smiled broadly, to show that he understood the boy’s point. “But you ain’t.”

He moved briskly enough down the face of the ridge and into the muddy rill of water. The brush along its bank was still green and gave good cover, but the muddy water was colder than he had expected. The bottom was mud and gravel, and as he approached the low marshy ground he found the creek bottom turned to pure mud. He sank in a hole so deep that it took him several moments and a great deal of thrashing to free himself. He crawled out into the night air, and the breeze cooled him more, so that his teeth chattered. Then he moved, crouched right down, around the marsh; he couldn’t stand to be any wetter, even if he risked detection. He crossed the open ground at a run and entered the trees with relief. Had he been more experienced in the ways of armies, he would have expected the militia to have a post in the wood to cover the rear of their camp, but his luck was in and his inexperience was shared by the summer soldiers in the camp. There was no post.

Nonetheless, men were moving on the other side of the wood. Caesar lay silent for minutes, his body heat seeping away into the damp ground, before he crawled forward a little and realized that all the movement was that of men going to and from the downed trees along the northern edge of the wood that they used as latrines. That made him smile; men are seldom at their most alert when dealing with such fundamental issues.

He crept closer. There were no sentries, but the conversation of two men using a latrine told Caesar that this was the encampment of Virginia militia. He gathered from their conversation that they had been digging trenches and that both wanted to be home getting their crops in. Mostly it was griping, little different from the daily staple of Virgil or Tom. But a third man, noisily settling himself on another downed tree, brought the real news; he had been with a patrol and seen the enemy camp—the governor’s camp—which he indicated was not too far to the north.

Caesar had a long way to go to get back to his friends. He ran across the open field, slipping twice in the mud, running as much for the warmth as for the speed. He leapt the creek and headed straight up the ridge, pulling himself up the steep slope by grabbing the smooth trunks of smaller trees in the failing light. He paused at the top, half afraid, perhaps expecting Jim with bad news, or an ambush on his back trail. He was conscious that he was going back exactly the way he had set out, a serious mistake, but he didn’t know another way and didn’t want to waste the time finding one in the gathering gloom.

Once down the other side, though, he felt free, and he was almost unwary as he began to cross the open ground to the south. The smell warned him just in time—the fresh smell of a dead animal. That deer carcass wasn’t too far away. Then he heard the movement and he froze, his fowler coming up to a line with his eye and pointed at the sound. He moved to his left, cautious now, his heart thumping away like horses’ hooves in his chest.

Wolves or coyotes. Maybe dogs. They were all bad, if they caught you alone. And his one shot might not slow them, might just bring something worse, like militia. He kept walking off to his left, the fowler tracking the tearing, rending noises. It sounded like fiends from hell ripping bodies asunder—too many for one poor deer carcass. Caesar shivered again and moved a little quicker, back to the small creek and then up the side of the ridge he’d made camp on last night. He smelled fire and thought he smelled roasting meat, which made him suspicious. He was so worried that he crawled right up on them and listened for a minute to make sure that slave-takers hadn’t left an ambush for him, but it was just Virgil griping nervously to Jim about how late he was.

He wanted to say something about the fire, but he was so cold that he needed it, and he was so relieved to see them that he wanted to hug them all. There, at the base of the last hill, with the wolves close, he had thought it might be some dreadful devil’s trick to let him hear how close they were to the governor’s army and then take his hope away. With warm tea in him and a blanket on his shoulders, he almost had to cry, but he covered it.

“Governor’s army isn’t far, friends.” He looked around at them in the flickering light of the tiny fire. “We gon’ make it tonight, or we won’ make it at all.”

They nodded. They could all see that wherever he had been, it had been a hard place—not just in the cold, but something in his face.

“I got a rabbit,” said Jim.

“How’d you do that?” asked Caesar. “I didn’t hear a shot.”

“Damn thing walked into here bold as brass, just as the light started to go. Jim gets up nice and slow, then fzzt! And he’s off after the thing.”

“Caught it, too,” said Virgil. “Never seen nobody catch a rabbit with their bare hands.”

Jim drank in the teasing praise. “You said we needed food, an’ we’d have to catch it ourselves, so I did.”

Caesar sucked the marrow out of a bone and shook his head.

“Never seen nobody catch a rabbit with their bare hands,” said Virgil again.

The moon was just rising when he started them north, even farther east than the night before. He aimed for the little ridge he had seen, but he wanted to make a big circle around the militia camp, going well east, and come back on his ridge. He had done such navigations in the swamp with mixed success, but the moonlight helped, as did the rabbit. By the time he had been moving for an hour, he was warm again. They were in the low ground where he had seen patches of cultivated land. He thought from the furrows that it was slave-cultivated, not tobacco but food. The slave cabins must be close but he hadn’t seen them and he guessed they must be further east, nestled up against an invisible plantation house. He kept moving, his little band right on his heels in Indian file.

The rabbit was just a memory by dawn. The men had been on their feet for nine hours, and they had started short on sleep. They were done. The rising sun was at their backs, as Caesar had hoped, as they moved west, aiming for the slope of what he still thought was the ridge he had spied while he watched the militia camp. He led them quickly despite their fatigue; more and more he used speed to cross open spaces instead of stealth. When they were in among the trees on the ridge’s wooded slopes, he felt as safe as he permitted himself to feel.

“We’ll get up to the top and take a break,” he said, glancing north through a break in the foliage.

“Thought we was gon’ get to the governor tonight,” Tom said.

Caesar nodded. “We didn’t. I hoped we’d find him out to the east, but he’s still north. I think I smell some smoke out there,” and he waved his arm. “I’ll go see. You stay here and rest.”

Caesar had some energy left, from some reserve he always seemed to cache away, and he left them in a hollow on the wooded ridge. He thought he could see the Chesapeake in the distance.

He was light-headed, and for a bit he just stopped and breathed, afraid that he might have the fever again. But his breathing steadied and his mind was clear, and he kept on across two fields that had been in wheat and one with corn stubble all the way across. He had to burrow through the hedges where they had been allowed to grow, and suddenly he was at the edge of a road and men were talking on the other side of the trees—white men. There were more fires, the fires he had smelled from the ridge. The hedges covered their smoke.

He slipped into the trees and crawled forward until the men were clear, backlit against their fires. He paused for a moment to think how foolish they were to put the fires behind them in the dark; but they clearly had sentries, and the fires helped him see that the sentries were soldiers in coats, and the coats were red. The local civil war was anything but straightforward, but Caesar was sure enough that men in king’s coats had to be the governor’s men. Their fires and their sentries faced the militia, a few miles away. He moved forward to the edge of the trees and watched a while as the regulars changed their pickets and shivered in the fall air. One smoked and another cautioned him about it. The sun rose higher, and as it did, Caesar saw that the relief party coming down the track behind the sentries was composed entirely of black men in sashes, all armed with muskets. Their officer was white. He relieved the regulars and his own men settled in their places. They tended to talk more, and they all smoked. The officer sat down a little to one side, almost at the edge of the track, and opened a book. Caesar began to crawl that way, moving carefully but with joy rising inside him. Those men—black men, with muskets—weren’t runaways, but black soldiers. It was all true.

He made it to the very edge of the trees, only fifty feet or so from the officer. Caesar didn’t know why it was so important to get to the officer without being caught, but he moved as slowly as he ever had in the swamp, out from the protection of the trees and on to the field of high grass, golden in the autumn sun beyond. He stopped frequently to listen; he could no longer see the other sentries without raising his head. After a long time, he thought he had gone far enough, and he lay still a moment, gathering his strength and his courage, and then he rolled to his feet. One of the sentries saw him instantly, but the officer was a little slower, or just lost in his book, and when he glanced up, he saw Caesar’s wide smile very close to him. The man showed no fear, only lowered his book.

“Good day to you, sir,” said Caesar, bowing, speaking carefully in a way he hadn’t in months.

The man laughed. “Damn, that’s civil. You a runaway?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Speak well, I’ll give you that. That your gun? You alone?” He seemed to be speaking for the benefit of someone else.

Caesar felt the sentry glide up behind him, but he held his ground and his smile.

“I heard that any slave that joined this army was free.”

“True enough.” The man looked Caesar up and down. “I’m Lieutenant Edgerton. What’s your business?”

“I want to join. There’s others with me.”

The man behind him put a hand on his shoulder.

“I know this boy,” he said.

“Very well, Sergeant King,” said Edgerton, his eyes going back to his book. “Enter him and see to his friends.”

“Yes, sir.” King smiled at Caesar and took his gun for a moment, looking at the priming and the state of the piece. Caesar stared in wonder. He hadn’t expected to see King ever again.

King was all business. “How many with you?”

“Two men and a boy.”

“Good as you?”

“They can all shoot. Even the boy.”

“We get some every day. But not many as bring their own guns, nor can shoot.”

“We’ve been in the Great Dismal.”

“I’m sure you have tales to tell. Let’s get your friends. Where ah they?”

“Over the ridge. Almost a mile.”

“You came through the milishee?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m Sergeant King. You say, yes, Sergeant.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Good boy.” He turned back to the officer. “Permission to take a party of men and retrieve the rest of the recruits, Mr. Edgerton?”

“Carry on, King.” King doffed his hat, a rakish round hat with several plumes, and then turned to Caesar.

“Stay right here.”

Caesar watched as he went past the picket and came back with a group of black soldiers. Some looked clumsy with their arms; a few looked dangerous.

“Fall in the marker. You, Jonas. Right. Fall IN!” The men moved quickly into a fairly crisp imitation of the two precise ranks the regulars had used to march. King stood facing them, a big Queen Anne musket over his left arm like a sportsman.

“We ain’t tryin’ to impress the king here, boys. We’re goin’ to get a few o’ this boy’s friends, waitin’ over the hill near the milishee. So we best go fast an’ quiet, in a single file. If it comes to shootin’, you jus’ form a line an’ follow me. Got it?” Everyone nodded, although several of the clumsy men looked so nervous as to be comical.

“I forgot your name, boy.”

Caesar thought for a moment.

“Julius Caesar.”

“Very well then, Caesar. You’re the scout. Take us to them.”

Caesar’s energy was renewed, at least for the moment; he could still feel the fatigue, but it was far down and he kept it there. He loped off, moving quickly through the woods and over the fields, trying to guide the little file of soldiers through the hedges as best he could. By the time he got to the hollow at the top of the wooded ridge, it was full day. All three of his men were lying at the bottom of the hollow, unmoving, and for a moment of heartbreak he thought they were dead, but then Jim’s head came up and Tom pointed his pistol. And they saw the black men with muskets, and Tom smiled, and so did Virgil, and even Jim.

Sergeant King was looking out of the little wood down the ridge toward the militia camp.

“You’re no fool, Caesar. This is as good a watch post as I’ve seen.” Caesar thought that King had learned this new clipped way of talking from the white officer.

He told off all three of the dangerous looking men and two of the clumsy ones, and told them to observe the militia until he sent a relief. “If you ain’t heard nothin’ when the sun is at noon, you jus’ come back. If’n they attack you, jus’ come back. Otherwise, stay here and learn what you can.”

The dangerous men all nodded. Caesar went over to the largest; closer up, it was obvious he had been a sailor like King. He had tattoos all over his arms.

“There’s a trail comes up from that creek. See it?”

The man squinted, then nodded.

“They didn’t have no sentries out las’ night, neither.”

The sailor nodded at Caesar and smiled.


And then they were going back down, past the hedgerows and the fields, through the wood, past the other sentries, and farther back, through another line of guards to a field covered in gray linen canvas tents. King took them all to an officer who asked them some questions, and when they left his big white tent each of them had a shilling and a paper chit.

People stopped and looked at them because they looked so savage. Eventually this made it through their fatigue, and they began to be embarrassed. There were women in the camp, and quite a few were black, and several were bold enough to comment on Tom’s breeches, or Caesar’s.

“What’s the paper say?” asked Tom. He liked the shilling.

“It says you are a soldier in the Loyal Ethiopian Regiment,” said King, and he stopped at a firepit where a big group of black men and women were cooking. “This is your company. Listen up! These men run a long way to join, so treat ’em right. Your corporal is Mr. Peters, right here. Mr. Peters, this is Julius Caesar.” Caesar looked through his fatigue and saw a much older man, who nodded gravely.

“You lads hungry?”

They all responded.

“Well, that’s about the only good thing ‘bout being in the army.” He had a curious accent, like a very educated white man. He was only the second African Caesar had ever heard speak so well. But Caesar was beyond curiosity just then, and when a mess kitty full of salt pork and thick pea soup was placed in his hands, he didn’t stop eating until it was empty. When he raised his head, most of the men were gone, and his own three were asleep on the ground. Corporal Peters was watching him with a benign air.

“How long have you been on the run?”

“Near on six months, I think.”

“You speak well. What were you, a house slave?”

“No, sir. I was a dogs boy.”

“Those dogs must have spoke you uncommon civil, then.” The older man smiled at his own humor. “Get some sleep, lad.”

Caesar was boiling with questions, but he was safe and well fed. He let his head slide down on to a forage bag full of straw. He fell asleep there, but his right hand was still wrapped around the wrist of his fowler, and the corporal smiled at him, shook his head, and lit his pipe.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

George Washington and his valet William (Billy) Lee

“It is curious that you and I share a name, is it not, William?” Charles Lee was leaning against the door jamb, his coat fashionable, his hat in hand, watching Washington’s black manservant powder his hair. William Lee had the mask over his master’s face to keep the powder off and was dusting away industriously. He never could tell whether General Lee was joking or being serious, and he didn’t like the game.

“Yes, suh. Very curious.”

“Perhaps we have a parent in common, or are cousins.”

“William does not appreciate this sort of humor, General, and neither do I.” Washington spoke from under the mask. “It scarce does you credit, abusing a man who can’t answer back.”

Lee laughed his cynical laugh, two quick barks. “I think I’m perfectly civil. Inviting the fellow to be a relative ought to be taken as a compliment, I think. I certainly meant it so, Mr. Lee.”

“Thank’a, suh.”

“Think nothing of it. General, we have dispatches from General Arnold.”

Washington’s head came up eagerly, but he restrained himself as William Lee was just starting to club his hair.

“You have the advantage of me.”

“General Arnold is in good spirits and his advance guard is past the second portage to the Dead River. He’s through the worst of the high ground and well on his way to Quebec.”

Washington’s breath escaped audibly.

“We’ll take Quebec yet.”

“Please stay still, suh.”

“Sorry, Billy.”

Billy brought a freshly pressed black silk ribbon, three full inches broad, from the side table and brought it up under Washington’s heavy club of hair. He began to tie it. Washington held his head perfectly still.

“General Arnold dated this the thirteenth of October. Did I say he’s in good spirits, as are his men?”

“Does he give a return of supplies?”

“He notes near the bottom that he has provisions for twenty-five days.”

“That’s news worth hearing.”

“I took the liberty of giving the messenger a few dollars. Added to General Montgomery’s dispatches of yesterday…”

“We begin to show signs of having a winter campaign. It’s far too early to be sure, but if we can take Canada…”

“…the war is won. No Canada, no bases, no place for their navy to anchor. Yes, sir. Of course, there is Governor Dunmore in Virginia.”

“Nothing that need worry us. What do we have in the notes for today?”

“I’ll send you Captain Hamilton, sir.”

Washington’s head emerged from the mask. His hair had just one curl to each side, but was crisply clubbed at the back. The coat of silver-gray powder was exact and even and not a speck of it was on his dressing gown. William Lee helped him into his heavy blue and buff uniform. After he had his sword belt seated properly, Lee began buttoning on his heavy epaulets. Washington and Charles Lee wore virtually the same uniform, but each adorned it differently. Lee gave it an air of carefully planned unconscious elegance, while Washington lent it a spartan dignity. As Washington finished his toilette, they glanced over each other as if duelists measuring an opponent’s prowess.

“Had any thoughts on provisions?”

“Only that it’s time to make demands of the other colonies.”

“And enlistments?”

“I expect we’ll enjoy recruiting another army when this one marches away with all our equipment, but I’ll be damned if I can think of a way to avoid it.”

Washington looked pained when Charles Lee swore, but let it pass.

“I think the Connecticut regiments will stay.”

“Perhaps, sir. Are you ready for correspondence? I have to be in the saddle. The ‘line’ regiments won’t send in returns unless I bully their adjutants.”

“I would like to deal with my household, first. Ask Hamilton to wait and send me Mr. Austen.”

If Charles Lee resented acting in lieu of a butler, he stifled it, smiled a very small smile, and bowed.

“Your servant, sir.”

William Lee waited until the room was clear, then started in on his master’s neck stocks. He could trust the girls with the shirts, but stocks took a different touch.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Paper Cartridge

Cartridge Box

British Soldier - 14th Regiment of Foot 1775

British Marine 1775

How to load a musket.......or not

Governor’s Palace, Williamsburg, Virginia

“Make ready!”

Every man in the company held his musket barrel up by his left cheek and cocked it.


Every man brought his musket sharply down and aimed it across the field.


Forty flints struck forty hammers and turned them over with a soft click and a shower of sparks. Most of the men immediately rotated on their heels until they were half turned to the right, and their right hands reached for their cartridge boxes. The white sergeant in the red coat walked along to one man who hesitated.

“Are ye ready to load then, lad?”

The young man instantly rotated on his heels and reached back. Other men who were slow at the drill did the same. Sergeant King stood behind the company, speaking quietly to the newest recruits in the center of the back rank, which included Tom, Caesar, and Virgil. Jim was so small he had to be in the front rank, but he was a fast study and it had been days since he had been reprimanded at drill.

“Prepare to prime and load. Handle your cartridge!” Forty hands reached in and removed a paper tube full of powder from the wooden blocks in their cartridge boxes. Less than half of them had boxes; the rest had various contraptions they had made themselves or which had been made for them by Williamsburg contractors. Then they bit off the top of the cartridge between their teeth and brought the now-open paper tube to the height of the pan on the musket’s lock.

“Prime your pan.”

Every man poured enough powder to ignite the priming into the pan and raised his fingers to the back of the cock, or frizzen.

“Shut your pan.” Every man closed the L-shaped cock over the priming pan, and…

“Cast about.”…rotated the musket smartly at a pivot formed by the swell forward of the lock, so that it was held, lock down and barrel up, in the left hand. The right still held the paper tube with the remainder of the powder.

“Charge with cartridge.” The three ranks tipped the contents of the tube and the tube itself down the barrel.

“Draw your rammers.” Every hand grasped the rammer at its iron tip and pulled as far as the arm could reach, then those same right hands moved quickly back down to the newly exposed base of the rammer and caught it there, “shortening” the rammer.

“Ram down cartridge.” The shortened rammers were drawn fully from the pipes, rotated through a half-circle so that the iron tip was in the top of the barrel, and thrust strongly home.

“Withdraw your rammers!”

“Return your rammers!”

Now every man stood with a loaded musket held tight into his left shoulder. No ball, of course. The King was sparing of his lead.

“Make ready!” Sergeant King was pushing the new recruits at the rear.

“Lock up. Lock up there, Tom.”

The white sergeant paced to the center of the line.

“Every man in the second rank should have stepped over. Every man in the first rank should be kneeling with his leg well back. Every man in the third rank should have stepped a little forward to lock up. You should be one machine, capable of delivering one fire. In battle, if the king should ever be so unlucky as to send you there, we will not be loading a step at a time. We’ll only tell you to ‘prime and load’. But this, the ‘make ready’, is the most important step if this long fellow here is not to shoot off the ear of this little fellow in the front rank. Are they ready, King?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well. Remember what I told you. Every musket comes down together. You all seem to have muscles. Use them. PRESENT!”

Thirty or so muskets came down together. Most of the back rank was too slow.

“Not good enough. Back to the make ready!…PRESENT!”

This time, the motion was, if anything, weaker than the last. The sergeant seized a musket from one of the front-rank men.

“Look, you cretins. First, I’m at the make ready. Yes? Present! One swift motion. The left arm is actually pulling the musket down. If you execute the make ready motion correctly, you will not hit your mates in front. Right. And again. Back to the make ready…PRESENT!”

It was a passable effort and would not have disgraced most companies of volunteers in England. The sergeant let it go with a head motion that showed his gentle contempt for their best effort.


The volley, fired with blank squibs, was quite crisp. He did not praise it.

“Prime and load! Quickly! Faster, you idiot! You, the long one, step over, damn you. Cover your file leader! Faster. Six, five, four, three, two…Make ready!”

Most of them got it right. The white sergeant noticed that all the new recruits in the back were on the right foot, had their bodies in the right position. Perhaps King was coaching them, but what of it?

“Present! Do you want to shoot your mate in the back, Coneyhead? Yes, you, you great gowk! Lock up! FIRE!”

He walked back to King, who was standing behind Caesar in the rear rank.

“Pretty sorry, King. But given a few years, we’ll make soldiers of the survivors.”

“Yes, sir.”

“That very tall fellow needs some, shall we say, strong measures? He’s going to be an embarrassment in the field. He’s afraid of his musket.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well then, King. Bring them along. We’re parading with the battalion in a few minutes.”

King paced out to the head of the company.

“Company will form column by wheeling to the right by subdivisions!”

A murmur in the ranks as the men who knew what this meant communicated it to the ignorant. King was wise enough to wait it out.

“By the right wheel! MARCH!”

With surprising precision, the company split in two, and each small block wheeled through a quarter-circle to stand in a column. They shuffled uncertainly to a halt. King shook his head, chagrined. He should have told them to continue marching once the wheels were performed, but he couldn’t admit it in front of the sergeant from the Fourteenth Regiment.

“At the quickstep! March!” The little column started forward.

In the rear rank of the second subdivision, Private Julius Caesar of the Loyal Ethiopian Regiment set his face and marched. His body was beginning to respond correctly to the commands, and he felt the first gleams of hope since the endless drill had started. Days of clumsy fumbling had reduced him to a deep frustration and anger, the more so as the white sergeant seemed to have no method of teaching but impatient repetition. He never called them niggers, but his contempt for them was not very well buried. He seemed to resent even having to drill them. Caesar felt it, and he knew that King and many of the others felt it, too. The drill was difficult enough without the added sting of the contempt that made every evolution seem like a test.

But as he began to master the drill, he began to understand better why it mattered. He could see how the big volleys of fire would replace the inability of most of the men to aim well, and he could feel how terrifying the volleys would be even aside from the execution they would reap. He began to enjoy drill. He also savored the changes in himself, wrought by daily exercise that included rest, good sleep, and regular food. The mattock wound in his leg was finally just a memory, and he thought he might get his speed back in time. His arms were filling out. He stood straighter than he had since the swamp. Girls looked at him when he strode by. And he wasn’t alone. Virgil seemed stronger, and Jim had gained an inch and was filling out like an animal being fattened for market. Most of them had hats, now, and their clothes were better.

Williamsburg residents still treated them like a raree show, coming to their doors or windows every time the battalion paraded there. The catcalls were mostly gone, although many of the residents made sure that every black soldier knew that they resented the arming and freeing of so many slaves. It was getting harder to find a slave in Williamsburg, and few of the middle-class families had avoided the consequence. Most of them had lost quite a bit of “valuable property”.

Caesar’s corporal, the well-spoken man, had been butler and major domo to Peyton Randolph. Other men in the ranks with Caesar had been field hands or blacksmiths or house slaves belonging to Loyalists. None had been reluctant to join the British Army to leave slavery. Governor Dunmore had hoped to raise a regiment of whites and a regiment of blacks, and the black regiment was growing faster, though it did alienate some of the white Loyalists. The whites were not coming so quickly, and the governor’s detachment of regulars and marines was stretched thin trying to cover all the possible lines and train the new recruits.

Caesar glanced under his hat and saw that they were well up the green by the governor’s palace and that two other companies of blacks were already drawn up there, as well as a detachment from the Fourteenth Regiment. Sergeant King halted them when they were aligned with the front marker of the second company.

“Company will form line from column by wheeling to the left by subdivisions.” Caesar was prepared for this, could already see the result in his mind. These maneuvers were becoming clear to him, and their purposes, though many of them seemed slower than simply telling the men where to go. It was all about harnessing and controlling the firepower of all the muskets. Caesar understood that to the marrow. He still wondered about the power of individual men aiming carefully, but so few of the blacks were trained in the use of arms that they were unlikely to make good marksmen, and observation of the white militia had suggested that they weren’t much better.

They were halted in line with the other companies. A white officer, not one he recognized, in an elegant brown velvet coat and a bright green silk sash, walked smartly to the front of the parade. He began to read from a proclamation and general order from the governor about martial law. Caesar understood it, but it didn’t seem to have much to do with him. He spent a few moments thinking about “clubbing”, or reversing the company, and why that was such a bad thing. His attention snapped back to the white officer when he coughed and his tone of voice changed.

“I do require every person capable of bearing arms, to resort to his Majesty’s standard, or be looked on as traitors to his Majesty’s crown and government, and thereby become liable to the penalty that the law inflicts upon such offences, such as forfeiture of life, confiscation of lands, and etc. And I do hereby further declare all indented servants, Negroes, or others that are able and willing to bear arms, they joining his Majesty’s troops, as soon as may be, for the more speedy reducing of this colony to a proper sense of their duty, to his Majesty’s Crown and dignity.

“Three cheers for his Britannic Majesty George the Third and an end to tyranny!”




Caesar looked at Tom, who was beaming, and at Virgil, who looked very serious indeed. Jim was too far away, in the front rank, to be reached with a glance, but Caesar could see a little of his smile tightening the skin at his temples. They were free men—and soldiers.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Battle of Great Bridge

Caesar had an eye for ground and a head for tactics, and he never doubted that they would be beaten. He could see that most of the white troops, the soldiers of the Fourteenth Foot, felt the same. They were quiet, looking at the enemy entrenchments across the bridge. No one seemed to doubt that they would be ordered to storm those lines, or that even the ragged militia would be able to kill them in the long narrow defile of the bridge. Caesar couldn’t understand why they had to try, but he waited with the others in the cold morning light, where the dew was so heavy it seemed like rain. Everything was wet. He wiped his lock again, directed his file mates to do the same. Caesar was now a file leader in Corporal Peters’s section; everyone said he would be a corporal soon enough. He liked that, and he tried to look out for his own. His file consisted of Tom and Virgil; Jim was next to him at the flank of the company, a place he held by both his small size and his competence.

The handsome officer in the brown velvet coat who had read the proclamation was from the third company. Peters called him “Mr. Robinson”, and the two seemed to know each other. Caesar hadn’t thought to ask, but the man seemed a good officer and his company was the best appointed and the best drilled. Their own officer, Mr. Edgerton, was not as wealthy, and seemed more interested in books than in war. He was still in Williamsburg, down with the fever. That left King to command the company, a situation fraught with complication, as he was not invited to the meetings the white gentlemen held.

Mr. Robinson could be seen arguing vociferously with the two white officers of the regulars, a very young man and an older one. Both of them kept their voices down. King watched impassively.

“They gon’ send us ovuh the bridge fuhst!” someone commented from the rear rank.

King glared back. “So what?”

“It’s madness,” Caesar murmured from the front rank.

“Their powder might be damp. They might be so scaret they can’t shoot. Anything might happen. I done seen it at sea, boys. You don’ know what the fight will be till you in it, and then it’s too late to change you mind!”

He looked over at Caesar and nodded. “Course, it does help to have a better plan. But we ain’t doomed.”

Both men watched the movement of the militia over on the far bank. They didn’t look scared.

Mr. Robinson came up to them and ordered the sergeants to wheel the Ethiopians on to the road, so that all his men were facing him. There were only about a hundred, less than a third of the regiment. The rest had been left in Williamsburg, for reasons not stated.

“Boys, we are going to follow the Fourteenth Foot across the bridge. They are regulars and better used to standing the fire, but I expect you to follow them with a will and fire as soon as you form line on the far side. I will lead you off myself. If I fall, you must look to Mr. Cowan and your sergeants. The Fourteenth officer is Mr. Cowse. Follow him as you would me. Remember that you fight for your king, and consider that your honor is the honor of your race. Please form the battalion in a column of half-platoons formed from the right, and remind the men of how to form to the left. Carry on!”

The noncommissioned officers moved through the ranks, reminding the men of what the maneuver would be if they crossed the bridge: each half-platoon marching up to the left to form on the one beside it. It was one of dozens of maneuvers they had practiced, and Caesar thought that if he had been in command he would have made the men practice it again. Although the verbal reminder helped all but the dullest, Caesar knew that most of the men in his platoon had only the shadiest notions of marching to an incline. He shook his head. It was interesting that the regulars were going first.

It was, to some extent, his second battle, and he was much better prepared than he had been for his first, far away at home against a sudden attack of slavers. He looked to the right and left at the men in his section and platoon, and smiled a little, because he was young and such things touch the heart. He had been a leader since the swamp, and that meant that he had to wonder how many of them would die.

The regulars formed on the road ahead of them, and did it in a way they had not been taught; Caesar watched it curiously. They marched off by files from the center so that they were only two men across. Caesar couldn’t see how they would reform in a hurry, but they certainly looked crisp. Most of the men had reversed their hats and let down the back cock, so that they had a shade for their eyes; it made them look more like scarlet farmers than the usual crisp soldiers. They also talked more at the moment of battle than they did on parade. One fellow near the back turned and waved at Caesar and his men.

“See that you follow us, blackie! No shirkin’!”

Caesar remained silent as befitted a good soldier, a little ashamed that the white regular should have broken discipline, but Virgil leaned forward and shouted: “Leave some for us, lobsterback!” For some reason, the insult caused a number of the other white soldiers to turn and wave. It was an odd moment of camaraderie. Caesar wondered distantly where the white Loyalist militia was. Clearly they were less expendable than either the regulars or the blacks.

“We all gonna die,” said one man from Robinson’s company. “But I like that them white boys is gonna die first.”

And then the regular officer raised his hand, and the column began to cross the bridge.

It was far worse than Caesar had imagined, because they didn’t even get across the bridge the first time. They made it a little over halfway, and the wall of fire stopped the regulars. They took hits and slowed to a crawl, then stopped and began to fire back, sporadically. No one ran, but no one seemed to be getting any farther. Caesar didn’t even have his foot on the bridge yet. His impatience soared, sure, in his strength, that he could make a difference. After a few minutes of ineffective return fire, the regulars retreated in good order. They had lost men, and several were wounded. They were angry.

The Ethiopians were placed in front, but Robinson’s company was first, and though they did a little better, moving faster across the bridge, they too were stopped by the volume of fire from the far side. Men were killed, or maimed, and they screamed. Caesar made it on to the bridge this time, and began to hear the bullets making their whirring noise as they passed close enough to cause other men to duck. He couldn’t fire, while other men in the column seemed to be shooting at the water, or nothing at all. The smoke actually gave them a little cover.

And then they retreated again, called back by their own officers when it was clear that they weren’t going any further. Both regiments had brought back their casualties, who were now lying in rows on the dry ground well to the rear, their calls for water and the mercy of God clearly audible above the fifes of the Fourteenth Foot and the popping of musketry from the far bank. The officers had a conference and the older regular officer, his arm in a sling, led his company to the front of the column. The men stripped off their packs, loaded their muskets, and looked grim.

King pointed to a young officer and an ensign with a handful of men from the Fourteenth.

“Know what they call that, Caesar?”

“No, sir.”

“That’s a forlorn hope. Them boys is gon’ run across as fas’ as they can an’ draw fire so that the rest of that company can get across.”

Caesar watched them with wonder. The men were pulling off their coats and putting their waistbelts over their shoulders, giving all of them a faintly piratical look. The officer, barely old enough to be called a man, was whistling tunelessly and stabbing at things with his smallsword. He didn’t seem afraid, and Caesar loved him for it, because he was certainly going to die. He seemed almost happy. He was fencing with a patch of ferns, showing off his skill, and he lunged, just decapitating the nearest of the plants, then turned and caught Caesar’s eye. Caesar smiled uncertainly, and the boy smiled back, turned and trotted to the head of his men.

There was no longer any joking among the men, and the redcoats were as silent as they had been in Williamsburg on parade. When the order was given, the young officer dashed across with his little party of men on his heels, and then the rest of the Fourteenth followed at the double. Caesar couldn’t see what happened because he was in the column, but although the volume of enemy fire increased, the column didn’t slow, and suddenly Caesar could see figures in red on the ground in front of the entrenchments. He moved on to the bridge himself, and then continued to jog forward.

There was a sudden crash and as it sounded like one of their volleys, he thought that perhaps the Fourteenth was across and firing. He was halfway, and the bridge was slick with blood from the men who had fallen in the first and second attempts. And the whole column slowed, but they seemed barely under fire. The enemy had a real foe to face now, he thought, and no time to waste on the bridge. The amount of blood on the bridge was a surprise. A man held about as much as a deer, it seemed.

The Fourteenth fired again, precise as on parade and fast, and then the column leapt forward for a moment and stopped, with Caesar and the front of his platoon right at the edge of the land. And just under him, his fine boots caught in the bridge, was the boy-officer, dead. His sword was gone, and one hand seemed to clutch the bank of the swampy ground.

The Fourteenth had formed well, and they were firing steadily, but both they and the entrenchments were so shrouded in smoke that neither seemed to offer any targets. The Ethiopians, whether from indiscipline or native spirit, had formed a loose line instead of the tight line of platoons they had been taught; and they were all intermixed, their ranks and files lost as the men had tried to push forward through smoke to fire their rounds. Caesar didn’t hesitate, but led his own men to the left so that the line would continue to form. Mr. Robinson was simply encouraging men to load and fire, and not trying to form them up, so Caesar ran to his flank, stopped near a man from Robinson’s company, and began to fire into the smoke.

The triumph of the rush across the bridge was shortlived. Inaccurate as the militia fire was, their superiority in numbers and the advantage of their entrenchments quickly began to tell. Caesar saw men fall around him, some hit badly enough to go down without a groan, a few unlucky ones screaming in anguish, and others, perhaps wiser, taking minor wounds and moving off quietly to the rear. The fire of the enemy never slackened, and Caesar began to doubt that they were hitting any of the rebels. He looked through the smoke and saw a regular officer go down, then stand again clutching his shoulder. He and Robinson stood together for a moment. Then Caesar’s attention was brought back to his own narrow frontage, where it was obvious that too many men were down.

They were going to break and run.

A few, mostly younger men, began to edge back, some of them lightly wounded. When they reached the water’s edge, they began to move more quickly to the bridge. Sergeant King stopped them.

“Stand still, you bastards. If’n you run, slavers will take you. Stay and fight!”

Caesar hadn’t left his spot, determined to die. He cast his musket about crisply and rammed another round down the barrel. The younger men forced themselves forward, although most seemed to lie down or kneel, and few of them were firing. The fire of the Fourteenth Foot had slackened too, and then it stopped.

“Regulars is retreating!” shouted one of the young men, hysteria plain in his voice. Caesar kicked him, hard, so that the man doubled over.

“Ethiopians!” bellowed a voice out of the smoke. “Two more rounds and we will retire. Make your shots count!” It was Mr. Robinson. He sounded old.

King was trying to form his own company. Caesar had no idea why, but the familiar voice in the smoke was giving orders that he could obey. Tom and Virgil were still with him, and he found young Jim and then Peters and then there were more men. Other men were firing sporadically.

“Everybody loaded?” A ragged volley of assent.

“Make ready!” Caesar knelt and his back foot kicked Virgil, who hadn’t moved fast enough. All around Caesar, men were moving slowly.

“Present!” Caesar tried to snap his musket down, but he could see that some of the front rank were out of place, and other muskets late.


It was not a crisp volley, but it had a sound that seemed to lift some of the soldiers out of their fear. It was easier to be shoulder to shoulder in the smoke than strung out in a skirmish line, intentional or not. Closer, they seemed invulnerable, and they could hear the voices of their leaders.

“Prime and load!” Caesar rotated sharply and reached for a cartridge, his eyes trying to pierce the gloom in front of him. He dreaded a charge by the militia, now that the regulars were gone. He sensed that the men from the other companies were slipping away as well. He could see King, standing just beyond Jim in the smoke. Then he had cast his musket about and was ramming the cartridge down the barrel. The barrel was red hot and it burned his hands, and the smoke burned his throat. He had bitten the cartridge badly and had the foul stuff on his tongue. He raised his musket to the position that showed he was loaded. As he was one of the fastest to load, he had a moment to look around him. The smoke had cleared, just a little, in a flaw of the breeze, and they were alone, the redcoats drawn up in good order on the far side and a good deal of Robinson’s company spread across the bridge in retreat.

“Make ready!” King’s voice sounded louder in the sudden sunlight. The company functioned more smoothly, the men kneeling together in the front.

“Present!” Every musket seemed to come down together. It was an amazing feeling, like being part of a great beast of war. Smoke appeared from the enemy entrenchments, and men fell. King went down with a small shriek. He lay silent, but his arms were moving. The seconds stretched on unbearably, and Caesar breathed deeply and yelled.


They fired very much as one, a crisp volley that roared their defiance.

“Mr. Peters! Sergeant is down!” Caesar yelled. He slung his musket and, with Tom and Virgil, moved to King. The man was clearly alive, although a rifle ball had gone through his cheek and there was blood everywhere. Peters began to order the men to reload, but Mr. Robinson, hatless, appeared beside him.

“Back across the bridge, boys!”

The company melted away from the center in seconds, as men fled at the best speed their legs could make. They had permission. It didn’t seem necessary to wait for orders.

The little group carrying King were almost the last, although a few men stayed to cover them with sporadic fire, and one of them died. Mr. Robinson ran ahead, and then returned to urge them on. The bridge seemed shorter going back, even with the bulk of King, and soon enough they were placing him in the line of bodies that stretched away along the dry ground above the bridge.

And then they went back to where the remnants of the company waited and simply lay down. Later that day, they marched away with their wounded and left the bridge to the victorious militia. They didn’t talk much.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
“I think we’ll keep most of those who are left,” said Lee, adjusting his sword belt and watching General Gates with a lifted eyebrow. “Does that man consciously seek to imitate a clown?”

Gates was struggling with the collar of his greatcoat, and one of its capes continued to fly up in the wind and disarrange his hat. No such thing had ever been seen to happen to General Lee. He looked up, took note of Lee’s regard, and flushed. There was little love lost between them.

Washington ignored Lee’s pettiness about Gates. “I understand that the Connecticut men are ill-received on the road.”

“I imagine their own sweethearts may spurn their charms when they arrive,” said Lee with a certain sparkle in his eye.

Washington caught the look, considered carefully if he wanted to know the means by which the Connecticut regiments had suddenly become so unpopular, and decided that he did not need to know after all. Gates had his coat under control and was striving to sit his horse in the wind like a portly hero. Most of the officers of the staff were in their finest, although much labor on powder and hair was coming to naught in the wet wind.

The Connecticut men had signed on to serve the army and the siege of Boston until December. Washington had held them a few extra days until the Massachusetts and New Hampshire militias had come in to fill his lines, but for a moment, the entire structure of the army had tottered. Now he had “long-faced” militia in the lines; but instead of leading a mutiny against the new Continental Army, the Connecticut troops were being treated like lepers by all New England. It was a satisfying reversal of fortune. Washington looked at Lee again, a man of elegant dignity, yet some subterfuge against the men of Connecticut left him with an ugly look of smug satisfaction, like a cat who has played with a mouse until it died.

“They were actually hissed when they passed Bridge’s regiment. That’s a good man, Ebenezer Bridge.”

Washington hated that look, and he spoke up. “General Lee, I would point out that these men served loyally and that it is the British, not the men of Connecticut, who constitute the enemy.”

Lee bowed his head, as he always did on being rebuked. Washington disliked the habit, and would have preferred if the man held his eye. He sometimes suspected Lee did it to hide anger.

“With all respect, sir, I will maintain that two days ago you offered to hang the lot of them as mutineers.”

Washington sat straighter in his saddle, unused to such direct rebuke, but it was, alas, true. He had been away from other men too long, was too used to the ultimate authority on his own farms. Here in the world, even as the military “master”, his staff felt free to question him. He stifled the start of anger and barked a laugh.

“So I did, Charles Lee.” He held Lee’s eye, and Lee smiled, his whole face illuminated for a moment. When the man smiled, it was like a clear day—enough to make anyone like him. But he rarely smiled.

The perfect distraction was just turning from the Mansfield road. It was a coach pulled by six matched horses and surrounded by a company of gentlemen led by the staff’s own Colonel Baylor. They all looked splendid as the coach and escort dashed up the last of the green and rolled to a stop opposite the gathered staff.

Washington smiled thinly, then made a comment to Lee over the confusion.

“If Knox’s guns were to arrive, I think my day would be perfect.”

His wife, Mrs. Horatio Gates, and a seemingly endless stream of Virginia travelers emerged from the coach. Lee bowed in the saddle to each lady as she emerged. None of them was likely to be Mrs. Lee, and Washington thought inconsequentially how difficult it would be if Mrs. Lee were to arrive, as her place was so clearly occupied by a local woman General Lee took no care to hide. But then Martha was there, and he dismounted to smile down at her and bow. She curtsied as if to open a dance, the essence of good breeding, and her eyes sparkled.

“Did I just hear myself compared to Colonel Knox’s guns?”

Washington always forgot what she was like, and he bowed again to hide his usual confusion.

“I am so happy to hear myself ranked with an event that must be important to our whole continent.” But she smiled, and began to introduce him to the other ladies, and in moments, they had the making of the first celebration most of them had known since they joined the army.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

"Two Small Royal Navy Frigates," 1775, Gabriel Bray

“I nevuh thought we’d get beat so bad.”

“I never thought.”

“I never thought. Right enough. I’d wager we didn’t kill a one.”

“Nor did we. Slave came in last night, into Edgerton’s company. Said the same.”

Caesar looked at the older man, his hands still moving through the process of reassembling his lock. It was perfectly clean, and he had stripped it twice. It was as if the action of seeing to his musket had acquired a religious purpose to Caesar.

Peters looked out over the flat water that stank with the filth of three hundred seamen and two hundred soldiers. The cold winter weather was probably all that kept them alive, cramped as they were. The ship remained at her moorings just off the land, and every item that went over the side stayed there, a trash heap and a dunghill combined into a great wet midden just at the surface of the water, getting fouler every day they spent on board. Ten days had passed since the “battle”.

“We lost a mort of men.”

“Yes. So did the Fourteenth. More than we.”

“For nothing!”

“Caesar, nothing is for nothing.”

The younger man glared out, thinking of Sergeant King falling wounded, of the twenty men left dead or carried away only to die later.

“Watch yer ‘ead, mate.” A sailor swung by on the ratlines, walking the top of the taffrail above them rather than along the crowded deck. He was blacking the rigging as he went, touching up spots where birds and salt had ruined the perfect black of the tarred lines. Caesar nodded, always pleased when offered courtesy, but the man was gone to his next spot of gull white. The Amazon was not a hard ship, but she was smart, and her captain didn’t leave a lot of leeway because his decks were full of soldiers. The sailors’ relative cleanliness and security was contrasted all too often with the soldiers’ filth.

Caesar dreaded asking the question, but Peters was likely to move off now. He often did when Caesar complained about the battle or about the conditions; he didn’t care to listen to matters he could not change. Caesar had his measure, and it was high. He was not the natural leader that King had been, but his education and the power of his words, his air of manners and quiet confidence were more than enough to fill the sergeant’s shoes. Other companies had done worse, losing leaders and having no one to fill their gap. Caesar knew he had been suggested for sergeant’s rank in Mr. Robinson’s company. He knew that Peters had turned it down.

“Why’d you tell them I wasn’ ready to be sergeant?”

“You are not.” Peters smiled. “No more am I, Caesar. But you cannot read or write, and the duties do require that you keep accounts, figure, and write returns.”

Writing. It hadn’t occurred to him; he had built an ugly structure of his own failings, but never thought it might be something as simple.

“Can you teach me to write, sir?”

“I’m quite certain I can, if you place the same emphasis on’t that you do on that musket. Would you care to begin this evening?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Excellent. Do you know the Bible at all, Caesar?”

“I can’t say that I do, sir. I’ve heard it read, oft enough. It be a fine book an’ all. But I don’ know it like some.”

“Pity, as knowing it by heart can speed a man’s learning. Still, I reckon you’ve heard enough for it, once you start. Know your letters?”


Peters nodded. “Well, you are in for a long and difficult experience, my friend. Well worth the effort.”

“When I can read, will you recommend me for sergeant?”

“When you can read, you’ll be a better soldier than I. Which is to say, yes.”

Peters moved away, off to his other corporal to see how he fared.

Virgil sat on the hatch cover sewing himself a jacket. None of them had uniforms, but Tom and Jim had returned to the ship after foraging ashore with the regulars with a good piece of brown woolen cloth. Virgil considered himself a fair hand with a needle as he had tailored a little on his plantation. Winter was cold on men in shirts and linen jackets made from sails past their prime; Caesar longed for a woolen jacket. He nodded at Virgil to get his attention, then at his own equipment in a neat pile under the bulwark by a gun. Virgil nodded. There were light-fingered men aboard; it didn’t do to leave your belongings alone.

Caesar went up toward the bow where the white soldiers were. They had better equipment and more of everything, so that he always looked at them jealously, but they were either amused or tolerant of a black soldier who sought to emulate their standards. Most were friendly; a few were bad. Tommy Steele, a big red-headed man, called the bad ones “awkward sods” in a voice that Caesar couldn’t emulate. Steele was friendly. Caesar sought him out, waited patiently at his elbow while the man finished talking to another. Caesar couldn’t bring himself to interrupt a white man’s conversation—a slave habit that he recognized but had yet to overcome.

“Good day, there.”

“Mr. Steele, sir. May I use your black ball?”

“Och, Caesar, don’t you call me Mr. Steele or ma mates’ll think I’m comin’ it a bit high. Of course you can use ma black ball. Why don’t I jus’ get you one? Have a penny?”

Caesar thought about it for a moment and produced a penny. He wasn’t sure of the man, and a penny was a penny, but it seemed worth the risk.

“Back in a flash, mate.” The soldier slipped off down a companionway into the bowels of the ship. He was gone so long that Caesar, who didn’t want to doubt him, began to, and figured his penny lost and his fledgling friendship as well. He had seen worse on board. Some men couldn’t stand the black soldiers and made that all too clear. But then Steele appeared at his elbow.

“Done me a favor, really. Here you go. Mind the wax. No, really, I paid the sergeant a penny for it an’ told him I lost mine. Now I’m the diligent soldier of the world, he says, paying good drink money for a new black ball.”

Caesar took the hard wax ball gingerly. If the stuff came off on your hands, it was like to spoil white leather or good linen. He already had an embarrassing tar stain on his jacket.

“Thank you, Mr. Steele.”

“Think nothin’ of it, mate. Now, seeing as how you’ve done me a good turn here, I have a little tobacco I might share with a needy man.”

Caesar looked at him, trying not to appear suspicious.

“Go on, then. I don’t want nothin’ for it. Do you have a tin?”

Caesar shook his head, but he reached into his hat and took out the stub of a clay pipe, broken so often that the bowl had less than an inch of stem. Steele pulled some tobacco off a hank, rubbed it between his hands and pushed it into Caesar’s pipe.

Someone behind him among the men of the Fourteenth made a comment about black balls and black boys. It was the sort of thing that Caesar had expected for some time. He hunched his shoulders and ignored it. Steele looked up, made a face over Caesar’s shoulder, and finished packing the pipe.

“Must be hard as sin being a blackamoor,” he said quietly. “I’m a Borderer in an English regiment, an’ that’s nae walk in a country lane.”

Caesar was embarrassed by such talk. He didn’t know what a Borderer was, didn’t want to be a blackamoor. But he decided to push a little. The pipe was packed, and he could escape quickly enough if he had to.

“What’s a Borderer, then?”

“A Borderer is a natural thief, a lazy man who lies in wait to steal and kill and never does an honest day’s work as long as he lives.” The man who spoke had an educated voice, like Peters, but he was white, and an officer in the blue coat of the navy.

Steele’s face was expressionless. It was unusual for an officer to intrude on any conversation of the men; usually the officers seemed as if they were on a different vessel. Steele was standing straighter, almost at attention. The officer looked at both of them and the look on his face was at odds with the harshness of his opinion.

“What’s your name, soldier?”

“Steele, sir.”

The man nodded. “I’m a Nixon,” he said as he turned and climbed the ladder to the quarterdeck. Caesar watched him go uneasily, aware that Steele had thought himself in very great danger for a moment and now was fairly sighing with relief.

“What’s a Nixon, then?”

“He’s from the Borders himself, the gentleman. Not that my da’ would have been strong on Nixons, mind. But here, they seem like brothers.”

Caesar gathered, then, that Borderers were a tribe of the British, which pleased him, as making them all seem a little more familiar. He nodded and waved his pipe.

“My thanks, Mr. Steele.”

“Just Tom. I forget yours…Pompey?”

“Caesar.” Mortified.

“Sorry. Your lot sound like a play—Virgil this and Caesar that. Along wi’ ya then, an’ have your wee smoke.”

“Thanks, Tom.”

He walked back down the deck to his spot, still empty through the power of Virgil’s glare, and settled his back against Tom’s.

“I’ve a full pipe,” he said.

Heads turned all around. Since they had been on the ships, tobacco had become a rarity among the men, especially the blacks. Caesar scarcely missed it, but Tom did, and some of the other men in his section. Mr. Edgerton’s man Tonny was one, a regular smoker. They gathered round, and Tom took out his tinder kit and, crouching by a gun, got a spark into his char and lit the pipe. The sweet smoke fought the stench over the side, and even the cold, for a few minutes.

“Next time, pack it in my pipe.”

“I didn’t have it handy.” Caesar, getting better at these exchanges, smiled broadly. “If’n you don’ like it, don’ be smokin’ it!”

Virgil’s coat was beginning to take shape; he pulled it on over his shirt, the left sleeve on and the right at his feet. It fit snugly. He hopped down off his grating and reached out for the pipe and took a long drag, rolling the smoke slowly out of his nostrils. Several of the sailors admired the jacket, but they kept their distance. Virgil nodded at them; one smiled and one frowned.

It was that sort of ship.

Caesar leaned his head against the gun behind him and began to black the cover of his cartridge box, thinking of the future.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

The Grand Union Flag, Continental Colors, Congress Flag, Cambridge Flag, First Navy Ensign

General Nathanael Greene

“I protest, sir! That was my plan, a plan that required subtlety and decision, two properties you will not find in General Sullivan.”

“General Lee!”

“Sir, I appeal to your sense of fairness. Was that not to have been my command? Was it not my plan? Is there to be no glory in this war for me at all?”

“General Lee, this war is not about personal glory. This is a war fought against our mother country to free ourselves from the chains of tyranny. Every man can only contribute…”

“Spare me, sir. You are the commander in chief. You may direct or subordinate every action. I am on your staff; I have no regiment of my own, and command precious little respect outside this headquarters that I have not slaved like an African to get, riding the lines and browbeating adjutants. I have spent weeks in Rhode Island trying to clear the ground of Loyalists and sympathizers so that we don’t find ourselves outflanked by a fleet in Newport, and I return to find that the one command I might have expected on the actual field of battle has been given to an incompetent bungler who traipsed across the ice in full view of their sentries. I have no right to make this complaint and that I will allow. I admit freely that the good of the service should come first, but a man is allowed a little vainglory, I think, and…”

“Calm yourself, General.” Washington took a deep breath, distressed at a decision that he had suspected was poor from the start, and doubly distressed that this clash was taking place in front of the staff. He couldn’t apologize. To do so would injure the integrity of the office he held. But he must make amends; he had been wrong, and Sullivan had botched the attempt. “I expect more of you than this shouting. Our people are about.”

Lee glared, a cat with his back up. He had done yeoman work in Rhode Island—nasty work at the ugly junction where intelligence and politics met—a job no one else had wanted. Washington was again conscious that he had wronged the man, and wounded that he seemed so often to wrong him. There was something about Lee that lent itself to wrong, or a certain injured dignity that seemed the only dignity the man could muster.

Which didn’t change the fact that he was a good soldier, and that he and Gates were the only two men approaching professionals in his army. They were not easy men. Washington suspected that each felt he might have had the command. They were not easy men again because they had difficult ways; all three of them were accustomed more to being obeyed than to obeying. That had been Martha’s phrase. Perhaps Gates resented it as much as Lee; the thought made Washington wince. He wanted a band of brothers like Henry V. He seemed to be leading a band of squabblers, and there was a fair share of blame with his own name on it.

“General Lee, I will see to it that you have the next important active command. There is some talk of a southern command in our recent letters with Congress. I will see that you have it, if Congress will agree. Or the command at New York.” This last in an undertone.

He heard the intake of breath. They all wanted independent commands. He wanted a united army that would serve more than six weeks.

“General Greene?”

“I have a new set of returns with new numbers on the regiments, sir. They are lower, as we feared.”

“Whose returns?”

“General Sullivan’s. He is not here to defend himself.”

Lee shook his head, rubbed his face with his hands, and looked up.

“How low?”

“Possibly below ten thousand, although word of the king’s proclamation has brought a fair number of recruits.”

Lee shook his head again, weary disdain mixed with none-too-secret elation on his narrow features.

“The rumor in Rhode Island among the Loyalists is that the British will stab at New York.”

Washington looked keenly at the maps in front of him. It was reflex, really; he had looked over the terrain a hundred times. An attack on New York was the only logical step: it was full of men loyal to the Crown; it lay virtually undefended; it had a marvelous anchorage for the Royal Navy.

“They are certainly preparing to leave Boston. I think we can consider the siege victorious.”

Washington glowered at Greene, his eyebrows lowering a fraction. “No talk of victory until we have triumphed, gentlemen. I, too, have heard that they are readying a fleet and boats. We must pray it is not for a repeat of Breed’s Hill. We don’t have the lines to stop them tomorrow if they come.”

“I don’t think they want to.” Lee was more relaxed. “I think my friend Burgoyne has written off Massachusetts Colony. It may be punished later; it may see raids. But the Boston garrison knows they have only foes here. They will go and find greener pastures, like Rhode Island or New York.”

“And you think the most likely thrust is New York.”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

Washington looked around the table at his staff. Gates, unruffled by the tempers shown, looked as if his thoughts were elsewhere; he often did, but they never were. The others were still a little distanced by Lee’s outburst, but every face was attentive. They were not scribbling figures to balance the latest returns, which was too often the case.

“New York must be defended. I would like a letter drafted to Congress asking for permission to raise troops and appoint martial authority for that defense.”

“Sir,” Lee was deferential, but firm. His use of sir had acquired a new proportion, as if it was a substitute for “my lord”. “You do not need the authority of Congress to place New York under defense. Congress made you commander in chief of the entire continent.”

Washington smiled a little, a smile that didn’t show his teeth. How much he would like to believe that he could exercise such powers! He was satisfied, if somewhat distantly, that every face around the table seemed to reflect approbation for Lee’s words. They were loyal to him, even if fractious among themselves. He no sooner felt the thought than he banished it. If he would not allow Lee his vainglory, no less could he allow himself a hope of dominion.

“I am not sure of that. Congress is our master, Charles; we must be wise in choosing our displays of authority.” It was said softly; every man in the room could hear it, but said so, Lee would take it as a personal aside.

“I honor that, sir. I honor it deeply. But I have the greatest reason to believe, from the most authentic intelligence, that the best members of Congress expect that you would take much upon yourself, as referring everything to them is, in fact, defeating the project.”

Tempted as he was to ask after the “best members of Congress”, Washington was pleased, but he controlled it as efficiently as he controlled his anger on other occasions.

“Draft the letter regardless, and show it to me later. General Lee, draw up a plan for the defense of New York. If Congress accepts, it shall be your command.”

Perhaps Gates flinched; perhaps Greene was jealous. Sullivan was absent. But soon enough, he was going to have to send them, every one, away to lead armies. The war would only broaden. Perhaps Canada would fall; perhaps Great Britain would see sense. Neither seemed likely. He had begun to think it would be a long war, and even as he reached to grasp his first victory, he had begun to feel his own monumental confidence slipping.

Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Jesuits Bark

As soon as the governor decided that the peninsula might be suitable for a winter camp, he ordered it scouted. Although the marines were excellent soldiers, they knew nothing of the terrain, and the word came down to the Loyalists, black and white, that scouts were wanted to learn the ground. Many of the Ethiopians volunteered, but Caesar and Jim were taken. They were issued two pistols apiece and sharp knives, a tarpaulin of oiled canvas and a haversack of naval rations.

The next morning, the two of them were taken ashore with a midshipman from one of the Royal Navy ships that accompanied the governor. Mr. Harding was nominally in charge and had the knack of making maps, but his small size and urchin’s face did nothing to inspire Caesar’s confidence. But he proved reasonable enough once they were ashore.

“Captain said I should listen to you, sir,” he said with a civil nod to Caesar. In the boat, the boy hadn’t even looked at him. Caesar felt as if he had become a different person on the beach. Behind Caesar, the sailors splashed in the cold water as the bow oars pushed the keel of the big boat free of the sand. Their mates pulled them aboard, their bare legs flashing in the weak sun, and then the oars were out. With surprising speed, the boat began to grow smaller.

“Best be getting inland, sir,” said Caesar. He ended the sentence more kindly than he started it; the enormity of being alone on an enemy beach was just coming to the midshipman. He looked a little gray.

Jim bounded ahead. He was gone into the woodline at the edge of the beach in a second, and Caesar wondered if he was going to have to call Jim back like a runaway puppy. The thought of two days ashore with two boys struck him as less like scouting than minding children. He took a moment at the edge of the beach to gather a pile of driftwood for a fire. Then he pulled a big sheet of old bark over his pile. He thought it looked like rain and he meant to camp near the beach.

Jim found a big meadow with a stream just to the east of their landing spot. Caesar thought it would make a good camp, screened by trees from the bay and by deep woods from the land. There was a small cabin site, as if the ground had been cleared for a farm that had never succeeded.

They made their way across the small peninsula in less than three hours by the mid’s watch. They crossed one track, a pair of paths with a low hump of grass between. Mr. Harding walked along it and came back. “No horse on this path for some time,” he said cautiously.

“We can come back to it, if’n you like,” said Caesar.

“Aye, that would be best.” He made a mark on his paper and they carried on, walking easily between the big trees on either side. Caesar listened to the white boy counting his paces.

Jim went ahead, mostly. He very quickly caught the habit and the intention of counting his paces, and he would come back with a bound, reporting the distance he had traveled. He kept going down to the shore. Caesar, watching Mr. Harding, noted that the mid already had the whole coast of the peninsula drawn in great detail, and that every time Jim came loping back, he’d question him until he could determine where on the coast Jim had emerged. Caesar watched little lines drawn across the paper, began to see in his head how the lines corresponded to places they had been. The only maps he’d seen were decorations on walls in rich houses. He understood how a map could show all of Jamaica, or all of Virginia. This was the first time that he or Jim had seen a map made small enough to show something on a more human scale. He liked it, but his enthusiasm was nothing next to Jim’s.

“That’s the trick!” Jim said on one of his returns. He was perspiring, despite the cool air, but he leaned down close to the white boy, watching the pencil move along a straightedge. The white boy was clearly proud of his accomplishment, and he explained to Jim as he went how he measured degrees with his pocket theodolite, how even Jim’s forays to the beach were along measured lines, and the paces made for distances, so that they slowly covered the ground.

“Like a net,” said Jim. “It’s like laying a net of us over the ground. We’ the cords o’ the net.”

Mr. Harding considered this for a moment. It didn’t sound mathematical enough to suit him. His mathematical knowledge was hard won, and he didn’t wish to belittle its power.

“It’s like it, I suppose.” The white boy couldn’t remain indifferent, however. Jim’s enthusiasm was infectious, and both boys began to work well together.

Caesar understood well enough, and he relegated himself to guard and make a little coffee when they stopped in the afternoon. The boys drank the coffee, but they were burning to return to the track in the woods and follow it. They saw the whole expedition as adventure. Caesar was oppressed by the emptiness of the peninsula and the constant fear of capture, with the added responsibility of the two boys.

After coffee, he buried his fire and they walked back to the track. Jim loped off, following the track toward the sea. Caesar took out his pipe and filled it. He had little tobacco left and few pennies with which to buy more. He’d saved a coal from his coffee fire and he used it to light the pipe. Harding looked over at him and Caesar held out the pipe.

The boy shook his head. “Mids aren’t allowed to smoke.”

Caesar thought about that, about all the rules they lived with. Harding could give him orders, but he couldn’t smoke. That had some humor to it. Caesar looked at the locks of his pistols and changed the prime out of the little horn from his bag. He looked at the sky.

“I think we’re going to have rain,” he said.

The white boy nodded.

Jim came running back, his energy still a tangible thing.

“Four hundred fifty-five each way. Curves to the north. Nice even curve, I think.”

Harding took a note. Then he drew on his sketch. “Like that?”


Caesar didn’t like the track. “I think it’s a plantation track to the beach for loading.”

“Let’s go find the plantation, then,” said Harding cheerfully, and they were off.

An hour later, their packs were feeling heavy and the rain was imminent. Indeed, the first cold drops had already fallen around them in spurts, as if the sky was indecisive. The track had crossed two fence lines, and they could see fields in the middle distance. Darkness was not far away.

“We need a camp.”

“We’re a long way from the beach,” said Caesar. “I had thought to camp on the beach, where the boat could see a signal.”

The two boys looked at him. “It’s a long way back,” said Jim.

“An hour.”

“We’ll be wet through by then.” Harding was less cocksure, now. He was tired. “And I want to see the plantation, get a sketch of the house. The governor will want to know. We’re here.”

“If we camp here, we’re a damn sight surer of gettin’ caught, suh. Sir.” Caesar tried to look for alternatives. Getting the boys back to the beach, building them a shelter, then coming back here? It seemed possible.

“We’ll make camp here.”

“No fire then,” said Caesar. Jim nodded. Harding seemed surprised when Jim joined Caesar and looked at him reproachfully. Caesar took both of them by the sleeve and pulled them off the little track and into the shadow of some trees.

“We ah’ standin’ in the open. We are standing in the open.”

Jim looked at Harding apologetically. “We been hunted in ground like this. Smell of a fire carries a long way. Suh.”

Harding looked like he was going to be angry, then thought better of it. “You’re the scouts. I want to see that plantation. What do we do?”

“We go to the plantation, quick as we can. Then we go back to the beach to camp. That’s what’s safe.” Caesar was already looking at the ground between his stand of trees and the fields. “Don’t want none of the slaves there to see us.”

“Won’t they protect you?”

“Maybe. Maybe not, too. An’ if’n they see you, might be different.”

“I’m willing to take the risk, Mr. Caesar.”

Caesar stopped watching the fields and turned back to face Harding. The boy looked earnest.

“Mr. Harding, if’n you get took here, you’ll be a prisoner for a few weeks, kept in houses by folk. If’n Jim or me gets took, we’ll be hung up dead on the spot, or made slaves. I don’ wan’ you to think we’re afeared, but I wan’ you to know what you ah’ askin’ us to risk to take a look at that house.”

The rain began in earnest.

“I’ll go alone, then,” said the white boy. “I’m sorry. I had forgotten.”

“That’s wrong, too. Jim an’ me’ll go. You stay here and stay dry an’ keep our packs.”

“But you said…”

Jim sank down on his haunches next to Harding. “We’ good at this, suh. We’ll take a little peek an’ be back in no time.”

Harding looked miserable. “I’m in command. I should go.”

Caesar felt himself admiring the boy a little. “Good for you,” he said. “But you got to know we can do this bettuh…better than you.”

He didn’t wait to argue with the boy. The boy spoke quietly to Jim and handed him something. Jim nodded. He and Jim checked their pistols again and moved off across the ground, now wet. They walked up some dead ground to a creek bed, and then followed the creek bed through a few fields until Jim, crawling up the bank, could see the chimneys of a big house. Caesar worked his way farther along the bank and then came up himself.

The plantation was a fine one, although small. The main house was solid brick, with five large windows on the top floor front over four windows and an elegant entrance with a fanlight. Brick outbuildings stood to the right and left. Even in the gray of winter’s evening, the building had some warmth to it, and the lit windows glowed orange as if inviting cold men to come inside and be warmed.

Behind the warm house lay the slave quarters, two rows of dark huts. None of them had an orange glow to them. Without servants to keep fires going all day, the fires went out on cold afternoons, and the huts were always cold.

A proper road ran from the front of the house off to the north. A great stand of trees grew at the northern edge of the fields, which stretched for half a mile. Caesar nodded to himself. The plantation was too far inland to make a good headquarters, but it was too close to ignore. He understood that much. He crawled back to Jim and found Jim sketching the positions of the buildings. His heavy, clumsy strokes were very different from Harding’s, but his eye was sure and the heavy square of the house was proportionate to the two barns and rows of slave cabins.

Caesar pointed at the nearest shed, an openwork log barn with a shingle roof. “Tobacco barn,” he whispered.

Jim nodded.

Caesar mimed smoking. “Gonna steal some.”

Jim shook his head in exasperation.

“Mistuh Hardin’ is waiting for us. You jus’ tol’ him not to take risks.”

Caesar crawled over the top of the bank and began to run toward the barn. Jim went back to his drawing, but now he couldn’t do it. He was tense. He wanted to follow Caesar, but thought that only increased the risk. He could see slaves working in the fields just beyond the barn, and he could hear a white voice, probably an overseer, shouting in the middle distance.

Then he saw Caesar at the side of the barn, and then slipping into it, a dark shadow against the near dark of the barn. Then Caesar was out again, and running toward him, his legs pumping. Jim wondered at how fast he was. He’d never seen anyone run as fast as Caesar. In a moment, the man was over the edge of the bank and down beside him. The rain was coming faster. Caesar had two armfuls of tobacco leaf, dry and pungent, and the sweet, dry smell filled the air.

“You done drawing?”

“As good as I can get it.”

“I wan’ get this under my tarpaulin, an’ keep it dry.” Caesar had a fortune in tobacco, at least by the laws of economy on their ship.

The darkness covered their retreat. It was somehow shorter back to where they had left Harding than it had been sneaking out. Harding looked as if he hadn’t moved, and his relief at seeing them was so great that he laughed aloud. Caesar didn’t pause to greet him, but pulled out his oilcloth and wrapped his precious tobacco in it. Then he slung the whole package over his shoulder and stood up.

Jim was showing his sketch to Harding, but the dark and the rain made it impossible to judge or add Jim’s work to the map.

“Must we go back to the beach?”

“If you want a fire.” Caesar didn’t mention that he had piled firewood that morning, or left it in a dry place.

Harding nodded. His hat was collapsing in the rain, and the dye from his blue uniform jacket had run into his shirt. He was small and wet and cold, but he still had some indefinable air of command.

“Let’s go, then.”

It took them much less time to walk back down the trail, even in the dark and rain, than it had to walk up. Caesar had experienced this before, and knew that careful approaches in unfamiliar ground took much more time than a simple walk down a clear trail. They were all soaked through and shivering.

The tide was up when they came to the beach, and had come up high, so that the shingle was only a few yards wide at the top before the open woods began. Caesar had to hunt for his woodpile for a while, but he found it by stumbling over the slick old bark. Then he used the bark as a shield while he lit the fire under it. First he got a spark from his flint and steel on his charred cloth, all out of his fire kit and the driest thing he had. Then he used dry punkwood from the center of a rotten log to take the spark and make it a coal, and he carefully built a tiny fire of dry twigs on that one coal, building and blowing until he had a flame, and then adding scraps of bone dry bark and twig, and a twist of paper donated by Harding.

Through the whole performance, the two boys sat on the wet ground in the rain, only partially sheltered by the trees overhead. Jim fell asleep, despite the cold. He had been out in worse. The white boy had stood his watches on the deck of his frigate in all weathers, and he rested his back against Jim’s and tried to sleep as well.

If the transition from spark to coal to flame had taken a long time, the leap from flame to roaring fire was swift. Caesar fed his dry wood until he had a blaze, and then he put wetter wood on and it burned regardless. He looked over at Harding, who seemed fascinated.

“On a dry day, you can build a tiny fire. On a wet day, you need mo’ fire jus’ to burn the damp wood.”

“We don’t burn much wood on board ship,” said Harding.

Caesar smiled and nodded. He took his brass kettle, fetched some water from the stream, then boiled some salt pork and biscuit together and woke the two boys. They ate voraciously, but without really waking up. They made him feel old.

He stretched a tarpaulin across the opening between two trees and lashed it with pine roots. Then he pushed the boys under it, threw a second tarp over them, and prepared himself a pipe of his new tobacco. It tasted wonderful, if a little damp, after a month or more of stale rations and ancient stuff issued by the navy and sold on by the sailors. He drank a little water from his canteen, ate the rest of the salt pork and washed the kettle, and crawled in with the two boys. Mostly, he was content.

The boat came for them the next day, on time and even a little early. Caesar received his share of praise. It appeared that Mr. Harding’s map was to everyone’s satisfaction, as was the site of the camp and the peninsula as a whole. The governor decreed that they were going ashore.

Harding came back to thank them that same evening. He gave Jim a metal pencil with some leads and a little book of blank sheets, and he gave Caesar a clasp knife.

“I’ve never had so much praise from my captain all at once.”

“What did the governor say?”

“He told Captain Lovell and the marine officer that he wanted to put the force ashore to keep you all from dying of disease. And then he laughed and said that he could at least be thought to be campaigning in Virginia if he was ashore.”

Caesar shook his head. “We’re better off here.”

“Will we make more maps, suh?” asked Jim, and Harding nodded.

“I’ll ask for you.”

The British marines were the best soldiers Caesar had seen. They led the landings from boats provided by the navy, dashing ashore and forming loose lines, every man using the cover along the shingle. There was no opposition; the rebels hadn’t smoked the landing and were forty miles away or more.

Command had responsibilities that Caesar hadn’t anticipated. As a corporal, he knew more than the other men about these landings. He knew that they were not intended as a step in a campaign to reclaim Virginia from the rebels; the sergeants and officers had made it clear that Governor Dunmore had abandoned any real hope of retaking Virginia for the king by force of arms. But taken together, the need of the men for exercise and the threat of disease on the ships mandated a landing. Five weeks’ waste lay in the bilges and around them in the slack water of the Chesapeake. The governor intended to take this little peninsula, hold it, and make it an exercise ground for his army.

The wind was bitter coming over the open bay. Caesar’s men all had brown wool jackets, but some of the newer recruits had only shirts and navy slop trousers or petticoat breeches. They were nearly blue with cold. They gripped their muskets with white-knuckled hands, and Caesar knew that they would be useless in a fight.

The whaleboat holding his men landed on the sand with a hiss.

“Up oars,” called the midshipman, a stranger. He turned to Caesar. “This is as far as we go, Corporal.”

“Yes, sir.” The midshipman was so young his voice was still high, and he had no real authority. That came from the coxswain, a burly man behind him, who simply smiled and jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the universal sign for “get out”. Caesar grasped the gunwale and leapt over the side into less than a foot of water, and then Virgil followed over the other side, just as they had practiced. The rest of the men walked up the thwarts between the rowers, and the sailors handed them their muskets, which had been stored along the bottom boards. It went very smoothly, and Caesar was pleased to see Lope, his newest man, standing on the beach with his musket, bayonet, and cartridge box, as it meant that his was the first boat unloaded. Caesar enjoyed the little courtesies of command; he touched his hat to the midshipman.

“Thank you, sir.”

The boy returned the gesture. “First on the beach, after the marines.” The coxswain, a decent sort who smoked constantly, waved his pipe at Caesar. He had offered a good price for any tobacco they could “liberate” in the course of their jaunt ashore; had purchased half of what Caesar had brought from the mapping party. The coxswain was sure that the expedition was doomed, and even claimed to know where they were bound next.

“Marker! Second Section marker!” Caesar called the ritual words, even though his marker man, Virgil, was ten feet away. Virgil pulled himself erect and put his musket on his shoulder with a negligent air, but the completion of the movement left him in the position of a soldier, the very personification of his section.

“Second Section! Fall in!” The rest of the men, even the recruits, ran to their places in the line, forming two ranks with the tallest in the center and the shortest on the flanks. Caesar’s section was almost a platoon since the latest draft of runaway slaves. He had twenty men.

The other boats were hanging back in the current. Caesar didn’t know enough about the water to understand what was delaying the second wave of boats. His were the only Loyal Ethiopians on the beach.

In the manual of arms he had learned, he could remember no order that would enable him to disperse his men in the rocks as the marines had done. He turned to Virgil.

“Spread them out along the scree, Virgil. I’m going to find an officer.”

Caesar grasped his musket across the body and ran to where he could see an officer of the Fourteenth, a naval officer, and a man in a blue velvet coat, whom he thought to be Captain Honey of the marines. He stopped a few feet away, uncertain, and then stood at attention with his musket at the recover. It was a position designed to attract the attention of a higher officer; it meant that a soldier was requesting permission to speak.

The officer of the Fourteenth was the eldest, but apparently not the senior man in the group. However, he was the one man Caesar knew; he had led a company at the disaster at Great Bridge. When he caught Caesar’s eye, Caesar stepped forward.


The man in the blue velvet coat turned and looked at him with distaste.

“Is this an example of our slave militia, Lieutenant Crowse?”

Caesar felt the blood run to his face and sweat break out all over his body, as if he was about to fight.

“Yes, sir.”

The man looked at Caesar, barely touching him with his eyes as if the sight were too painful.

“What do you want, darkie?”

“Where would you like my section, sir? My officer has not yet landed.”

“Get those men’s guns away from them before they shoot someone, and have them start hauling boxes up the beach.” He wasn’t addressing Caesar, but Crowse. He took a little silver whistle from his waistcoat pocket and blew it twice. The marines rose to their feet and began to move forward. On the far right, Virgil got the Ethiopians to their feet and moved off on the flank of the marines.

Blue Coat whirled around and stabbed a finger at Crowse.

“If I wanted those blackamoors stumbling through my skirmish line, I’d ask for them. Now get them hauling boxes.”

Caesar was still standing at attention. Crowse, a man he barely knew, looked at him with a spark of pity, but that was all.

“Have your men stack their arms,” he said. “And then get them moving with the stores.”

“As you say, sir.”

Crowse looked unhappy.

Over the next six weeks, Sergeant Peters had them up early to drill with their muskets. It was the only time they handled them; otherwise, the guns were locked away in the magazine by the blockhouse that the Ethiopians had built in the first week of labor. They spent every waking hour building: first sheds for the men to sleep, then the blockhouse and its chimneys, then a set of entrenchments along the front of the camp. None of their officers could change the situation, and the white troops, many of whom had started to fraternize with them, began to grow used to the idea that they could order a black soldier to do all the dirty work. Some of the blacks accepted this; others, especially the veterans of Great Bridge, resented it. The resentment lowered morale, and the men became listless. In fact, to Caesar’s attentive eye, they began to show signs of acting like slaves. They moved more slowly and the joking disappeared, at least when any white soldier was about. The men became furtive.

Visits from the sailors provided their only relief. The sailors seemed immune to any notion of color, perhaps because so many of their own were Africans or lascars from East India Company ships in the Far East. The ratings of the Royal Navy came in every color of the rainbow. The coxswain of the Amazon continued to pay well for tobacco, and to talk to Peters and Caesar as if they were members of the same mess, as they had been aboard ship.

The sick were brought ashore to recover from the fever that had them in its grip on the crowded ships. Once ashore, smallpox began to ravage the men who had survived the fevers onboard ship. The white Loyalists seemed to die faster than the blacks, but Jim caught it, and had the fever for almost two weeks. He lost all the weight he had gained since they had joined the army, and then even more, until he looked like a tight leather bag stretched over sticks. The others from their mess group, even the men like Tonny who hadn’t been in the swamp with Jim, took turns bathing him and cleaning him. As he lay there, his bright, intelligent eyes burned with greater intensity, as though he could cling to life by will alone.

Twice he had loud, angry dreams. Once, when Caesar was minding him, he was somewhere in his own distant past, forced to watch another man being beaten. If the sounds he made in the dream were reliable, the beating had gone on for a long time. The second dream came when Tom was tending him—a reliving of the battle of Great Bridge. Long Tom said it was eerie, hearing Jim say the words again, like being there, except they were lying on the ground in a dark hut.

The white soldiers continued to get Jesuit’s bark for their fevers but the supply ran short and the black men no longer saw any of it. There was no medicine for smallpox, and the men died, black and white together, and as often as not the Ethiopians were ordered to bury them. The dead men seldom got anything like a funeral, just a deep hole and a few muttered words from an officer with a scarf over his mouth.

The surgeon hurried to explain to Sergeant Peters that his people were tougher and less affected anyway. It might have been true, as far as any of them knew; certainly, more blacks survived the fever than whites, but it didn’t help the black soldiers with the notion that they didn’t rate quite the same treatment as the whites.

The winter winds bit through the tents and hasty cabins, that had covered the meadow with a patchwork of rude shelters, military tents, and mud. The constant movement of hundreds of men had worn through the grass. The incessant rain turned the ground to thick mud, and they never had the straw or forage to keep it from their tents. Some of the men went and slept in the woods. As the labor of camp building declined, there was more time for the men to brood on the unfairness of the white soldiers. Caesar began to encounter resentment when taking the men out for early drill. Men who had been eager to learn grew hesitant; men who had had little interest in the work to start with became rebellious. Caesar sensed that even the survivors of the swamp were losing interest.

Two mornings after Jim raved about the battle, Long Tom went down with the smallpox. Spirits were low as Caesar marched the men early to the magazine and stood them in front of the arms racks. Sergeant Peters was laying out a new storehouse, and Caesar was to command the morning drill for the first time. He was trying to pay close attention to what went on, but his thoughts were with Jim, and now Long Tom.

“Take up your arms,” he said as if by rote.

“Ain’t no need, corporal-man,” said Willy, a man from Peters’s old squad of inspection. “We ain’t soldiers. We slaves.”

“I am not a slave,” Caesar answered hotly. “Now get in line and pick up that musket.”

“Nope. Not taking no orders from no black mastuh, neithuh.”

Caesar had no experience with mutiny. His men mostly followed his lead because he had led some of them out of the swamp and the rest because of the trust of the first. Some of the new men were not so loyal.

Caesar snapped out of his reverie. He could see that Willy was keyed up, and that he was looking at his mates Romeo and Paget, flicking them expectant glances. He knew that this confrontation had been building since they landed. Caesar was astute enough to recognize that he and his authority might never have been challenged if not for the hostile attitude of the marine officer. As it was, he became the focus for his company’s discontent because he was both the newest noncommissioned officer and in some ways the most demanding.

Caesar took a step toward Willy but transferred his attention to Paget. Keeping his eye on the other man, Caesar spoke low.

“Get on the line and take your musket from the rack. Do it!”

Virgil recognized from his tone that something serious was taking place. Tonny shifted his weight a little, as he was the file leader of the next file over from Willy. The others looked vacant. They might know that something was up, but they had chosen not to take part.

“Wha’ don’ we jus sit somewheah fo’ a bit?” asked Willy in a slow, almost affected way. It was blatant disrespect. It was also no different from the way half the men behaved every day. Caesar was tempted to ignore it, or to jolly the man along. He expected he could do that; it worked well enough on slaves.

But these men were soldiers.

Caesar moved like a cat springing on its prey, his left foot stomping directly on to Willy’s instep and the butt of his musket smashing into the man’s midriff, doubling him in pain and surprise. He collapsed and Caesar stepped past him, thrusting the muzzle of his empty musket deep into the pit of Paget’s stomach and then kneeing him in the face as he bent over with the blow. Paget fell atop Willy.

“We are soldiers, not slaves. We got some troubles here, but we’ll get through ’em by working harder. On your feet, you two. You ain’t dead, but if I hear a peep about drill again, you’ll wish you were. Move.”

Willy got up slowly, but Paget just lay and moaned. Caesar knelt by him, his musket cradled across his thighs.

“You think it ain’t fair I hit you so much harder than him? He isn’t smart enough to buck me without you helped him. You think I don’ know? I know. An’ I know how hard I hit you, so get up before I make that show real.”

“You broke my nose, you bastard!”

Caesar grabbed the man’s head and lifted it off the dirt floor of the magazine. He lifted until he could look into the man’s eyes. It was quite a display of strength and it must have hurt the man a great deal.

“You get up, now,” Caesar said gently. “Or I’ll kill you.”

The whole magazine was silent. Then Paget got a leg under himself and raised himself to his feet. He moaned, but he stood. Caesar ran his eyes over the whole platoon, hurt to see that even Virgil and Tonny seemed to flinch away from him a little. But he had chosen a hard way, and he couldn’t falter now.

“Count off from the right,” he said. And they did.

After an hour’s ferocious drill, he took himself to Sergeant Peters and reported the incident, angry that he had lost control, angry at the marine officer and the army. It was the kind of helpless anger he had felt working in the Great Dismal—the first time he had felt that way since his group had found the army.

Peters had a good tent, courtesy of Mr. Robinson, and he sat on a tiny stool that had probably started life next to a fireplace or a kitchen hearth. He was so much too big for the stool that it vanished under him. Next to him was a small straw pallet in a forage bag. His backpack was open at the far end of the pallet.

“Ah, Caesar. I would like to offer you a place to sit, but…”

“Sergeant Peters, I have to report that I struck two of my men in suppressing a mutiny.”

Peters looked up his long nose at Caesar thoughtfully, and fumbled in his waistcoat pocket for his eyeglasses.

“The ground is hard even with the straw, and the nights are cold. The rest of you can curl around each other for warmth, but I have the solitary splendor and the lack of warmth it brings, and I’m stiff in the morning.”

His fingers couldn’t work the catch on the eyeglass case, and he had to concentrate for a moment and press it repeatedly till he opened it. Then he brought the glasses out slowly, as if treasuring them, and slowly unfolded the lappets before he pulled them over his ears and tied the ribbon. They transformed his face from that of a tired man to that of a scholar.

“Tell me about this mutiny, Caesar.”

“Willy, Romeo an’ Paget…”

“Willy, Romeo and Paget.”

“Willy, Romeo and Paget refused to take up their muskets for drill.”

“Perfectly understandable.”

Caesar, bent over in the entrance to the tent and looking down at his sergeant, almost vibrated with shock.


“I’m sure it has come to your attention that we are being used as a labor force and not as soldiers?”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“So the mutiny is quite understandable.”

Caesar shook his head, almost imperceptibly.

“Caesar, when men are treated badly, they behave badly. Willy and Paget have always been slaves, correct?”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“As such, they know only one code: when mistreated, slow down. You are lucky they didn’t spoil their muskets. Breaking tools is an honored practice, as I’m sure you know.”

“I’ve done it myself, Sergeant.”

“Good. Now you see their point of view. I’m glad I’ve shocked you, Caesar; you need to understand how other men think and feel if you plan to lead them. You expect too much from men; you expect them all to behave as you do. How did you handle them?”

“I beat them.”

Peters looked at him, his head tilted a little, and he reminded Caesar for a moment of Colonel Washington speaking to a particularly intelligent puppy. He had tilted his head in just such a way.

“And did they drill?”

“They did.”

“It sorrows me to say it, but that is definitely one way of dealing with a mutiny. The best way, I think.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.”

“No, Caesar, you mistake me. It is the best way of dealing with a mutiny once it has become open. But I want you to consider how it became open, and how that might have been avoided. I have feared this for some days. I believe I mentioned it to you. In future I hope you will keep such instances from eventuating by giving the handling of the men your very best attention.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Do you have your roll? Give it here. That is still the most oddly formed ‘R’ in Christendom, Caesar. Look at the letters I wrote out for you. Tonny deserves a surname; only slaves have just one. See to it.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Same for Long Tom.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Lessons tonight, after dinner is cooked. And our women are being landed tomorrow. Take your squad of inspection down to the beach and see to it that we get the same women we had before. No harlots, if you please.”

Something in his tone gave Caesar the hope that he would be forgiven. The shock of censure had not been so deep. He recognized, even as Peters was speaking, the essential truth of his words, and realized that he had felt guilty about the incident and his use of force even as it happened. Yet he did resent that it had happened at all, and he was torn by conflicting feelings of anger and guilt. If Captain Honey were a decent man to the black soldiers, none of this need have happened.

Peters watched him with concern. He wanted to reach out and touch his shoulder, or offer some gesture that would ease the sting of rebuke, but he had dealt with young men all his adult life, and he knew the lesson would have more effect if he carried his coldness through to the end. Tomorrow would be soon enough to relax his appearance of ill will. Poor Caesar. Being a leader was difficult enough. Training one half his age was almost too much, and though he loved his new-found freedom, sometimes the former butler missed his warm bed under the eaves.

Caesar made his way down the tent row that housed his platoon, listening to the men as they patched garments or smoked, idle or busy according to their own inclination.

One of the greatest complaints that the black troops had was that they were not allowed to patrol; the patrols inevitably returned with useful items, from barn boards to chickens. Kept in the camp as a labor force, the Ethiopians were missing out on what little there was to have. What they did have was tobacco. The plantation north of where they had landed was planted in tobacco, poor quality stuff that had stripped the soil, they all agreed, but worth something anyway. Virgil had led the other men in building a small drying shed and putting up some of the tobacco. Most of it was saved from the plantation’s own drying barn, but a little was from a field left unharvested in the autumn of war. It wasn’t much, but the sailors seemed to like it and it gave the Ethiopians something to trade. It also gave them a larger building in which to stay dry.

When Caesar didn’t hear the voices he expected in the streets of the camp, he followed the stockade until he came to the little drying shed. Inside, he was surprised to see Mr. Edgerton. He was stooped over under the low roof, his hat in his hand and his greatcoat wet. He seemed quite at ease.

“Caesar. Just the man I was looking for. Could we step outside?” Edgerton sounded polite, distant, and Caesar feared that the mutiny was still with him.

“Good day to ya, suh,” called several voices from inside the shack. The sweet smell of dry tobacco filled the air. Outside, it had started to rain again, a cold rain that felt greasy where it touched the skin. Caesar expected that they would stop out of earshot of the shed, but Edgerton kept walking.

Caesar elected to strike first.

“Sorry about the…trouble, sir.” He turned his head and met Edgerton’s eyes directly. Some white men didn’t like that, but Edgerton didn’t seem to mind.

“Quite the little incident. Yes. I thought you handled it well, Caesar. But keep in mind that it had roots…” Edgerton looked away for a moment and then back at Caesar. His look had been in the direction of the marine camp, and it was as eloquent as it needed to be. “It had roots elsewhere. Is my meaning plain?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, but that’s not why I left a warm fire and a book just to find you. I didn’t want to alarm the other men in your platoon, but one of our men has just died.”

“Little Jim?” Caesar tried to hide the hurt in his voice. Jim had survived so much to fall to a fever in the relative comfort of the army.

“No, Caesar. Jim’s no better, but he isn’t dead yet. It’s Long Tom.”

“He’s only just been sick!”

“He’s gone. Come along.”

Caesar walked through the rain, tears flowing unnoticed down his cheeks, head up, almost blind to the camp around him. Long Tom had been with them from the first—after Virgil, his most trusted man. Caesar could see him standing a watch in the camp in Great Dismal, or whistling tunelessly as he whittled a stick down to slivers with his long razor in the woods of southern Virginia. He thought about how far they had come from the swamp, and wondered if they would keep it. Even the attitude of the white soldiers was a far cry from life as a slave or a hunted runaway. Tom had died free. But he had died, and in the dismal light of the hospital, Caesar wondered how many of them would live to the end of the war, or whether they would even win through and keep their freedom. Sometimes, it seemed like a hard life to live just to lose it all again.

The hospital was worse in the light of day than it ever was lit by fire in the night; the men looked paler, their filth was more evident, and the hopelessness stood out on every face. Tom lay just under the shed outside the door, his dirty white blanket thrown loosely over him. Caesar stripped off Tom’s brown wool coatee—they had so few he couldn’t bear to waste one—and then he rolled his friend gently on to the straw, laid out his blanket, and rolled him up in it. He did these things almost automatically; it wasn’t really Tom, and he thought obscurely that he needed to get back to work. He didn’t worry especially about the smallpox; he thought he’d had it already. Mr. Edgerton stood under the shed, water trickling down his greatcoat, his once-fine tricorn now just a shapeless mass.

“Sergeant Peters told me to make sure Tom had a surname on the next muster.” Caesar was breathing hard as he tried to lever the body over without seeming disrespectful.

“I beg your pardon?” Edgerton sounded distant.

“Apologies, sir. I was just…just saying that Tom, he had no family name.”

“I suppose not. Many slaves don’t. Pity, that. The army should issue them along with freedom. Perhaps he could be called ‘Hanover’, after the king.” Mr. Edgerton kept his head turned away from the corpse.

Mr. Robinson stepped under the roof of the shed. “He’s welcome to mine, Caesar.” His greatcoat was soaked through, and he had the silver crescent of a gorget around his throat. He was the officer of the day. He hadn’t shaved and looked rough.

“Thank you, sir.”

“No thanks needed. I remember Tom at Great Bridge. He stood until the end, and the Robinsons can always use a few brave men.” Mr. Robinson looked at Mr. Edgerton for a moment as if willing him to say something, but Mr. Edgerton took a snuffbox out of his deep pockets and took snuff, then blew his nose into a handkerchief from another pocket.

“I’d like him to have a military funeral.” Caesar stood up from the body to make this announcement.

Edgerton just shook his head in the negative, still playing with his handkerchief. Robinson leaned against one of the pilings supporting the shed, and put his chin in his hand. He looked at Edgerton and raised one eyebrow.

“Mr. Edgerton, I dare say we could give him a military burial. The Fourteenth do it every day.”

“Captain Honey would never allow it. He barely tolerates us as it is.”

“Captain Honey already uses our troops as a labor force, Mr. Edgerton. He should be the soul of tolerance.”

“This is not the place for this discussion, Mr. Robinson. But if you insist, on your head be it.”

“Truer words were never spoke, Mr. Edgerton. Corporal Caesar, please see to arrangements for a military burial party. Three files with muskets and full equipment, the rest of the platoon in workshirts, turned out in thirty minutes in the company street.”

“Yes, sir. Military burial party. Three files armed, rest of Mr. Edgerton’s platoon in the street with work shirts and no arms.”

“Carry on.”

Caesar saluted smartly and marched off, leaving Tom lying between the two officers with his old white blanket around him as a shroud. As he headed off toward the streets of the camp, he heard the two men continue to argue.

The only difficulty turned out to be from the soldier on duty at the magazine, who had no orders to allow any troops access to the arms stored there. He was a soldier of the Fourteenth, and he stuck by his orders until Sergeant Peters stepped forward and ended the contest of wills between the sentry and Caesar.

“Private, we have orders from our officer to conduct a burial party. We need six muskets for the firing party. We’ll be back with them double quick. Didn’t the Fourteenth have a burial party yesterday morning?”

“We did, at that.” The man was hesitant, knowing that a positive answer would weaken his case. He was divided, as the white soldiers often were with the Ethiopian noncommissioned officers—training versus prejudice. He shrugged, as if dismissing responsibility.

“You are ordering me to give you the arms?”

Sensing victory, Peters smiled mirthlessly and nodded.

“Right, then, Sergeant. Here are the keys. Please sign the book.”

In a moment, the three files in coatees had their arms and accoutrements, consisting of a cartridge box, bayonet carriage, and bayonet. They fell in at the head of the parade, bayonets fixed. Peters, Caesar, and the other corporal, Fowver, took their arms as well. The officers joined them with their swords belted on and their greatcoats slung like capes. The last two files carried picks and shovels. The whole platoon marched briskly outside the palisade and over the field that had been cut to give the defenders a clear line of sight, to the little cemetery at the edge of the apple orchard.

“Halt!” Mr. Robinson held his hand in the air. The rain fell harder. “Work detail, dig the grave. The rest of you, under the trees and see to your arms.”

The burial detail was commanded by Virgil, who had volunteered, and otherwise consisted of the morning’s mutineers, looking a little the worse for wear.

Virgil and Paget dug the outlines of the grave with the spades they had carried, cutting deeply into the sod and lifting squares clear until they had a hole six feet long and three wide. Then Romeo and Willy began to break the ground with their picks. Romeo cut away with a will, clearly anxious to please; Willy looked as if every cut hurt him. The platoon watched them work in total silence. Mr. Edgerton took snuff; Mr. Robinson removed a tiny tinderbox from his pocket and got a pipe lit, quickly and easily. Several of the men watched enviously; none of their tinderboxes was waterproof enough to keep their tinder dry in the rain.

Mr. Robinson was an astute man, and he caught the looks soon enough.

“Got a pipe packed? Bring it here.” He took Tonny’s pipe and lit it from his own and passed it back. The spark was passed to other pipes, and gradually all the men who smoked either had a pipe or shared with another. The grave went down, and the platoon sat under the apple trees, cold and wet.

When the men with picks had broken the ground, the men with spades would come in and throw the earth up out of the grave. By his third round of breaking ground, Willy looked used up. Caesar took off his brown cloth coatee and laid it on the ground, then went and took the pick out of the other man’s hands.

“You go rest a while.” Caesar jerked his head sharply toward the trees, where the others were resting. Then he began to break the ground. When he was done with his half, he found that two more men had stepped forward to take the places of Virgil and Paget. Tonny took the pick from him, and two by two the whole platoon dug down through the red clay and the sand until the grave was deep and wide.

Another month of waiting and working. The camp was more orderly now, laid out in streets, long rows of hordled tents with planks gray in the sun, stretching out like small houses facing another across an empty street of mud. There weren’t enough tents for all the troops, and many of the Loyalists, black and white, had built huts of brush in the shape of tents. Boards from the plantation’s barns had been used to hordle some of the tents, and many of these were now thatched in straw. Every day the camp looked more permanent.

Caesar was out alone, standing in the rain under the same apple trees and watching Captain Honey drill his men. He had them strung out across the whole field, each file of two men separated by some yards, and every man seemed to be loading and firing his musket on his own time. There was so much to it that was different from the soldiering Caesar knew that at first he couldn’t see that the men were under command at all; it looked as if each man were making his own decisions. But after an hour of drill, Caesar could see that they expanded and contracted on the captain’s little silver whistle. They could also halt or advance on the whistle, and when they fired, Caesar gradually sorted that each man in a file was aiming while his partner was loading, so that half the line was loaded at any given time. It looked like a very sensible way to fight in close country, but it asked more from the soldiers because they lost the comfort of the solid wall of their fellows.

He heard Captain Honey give an order, although it was indistinct, and there was a groan from the ranks, a sense of levity that Caesar hadn’t seen from regular soldiers, but he knew that Honey was well liked by his men. Then both ranks threw themselves down on the wet ground and seemed to roll on their backs and then on their stomachs like acrobats. Caesar stepped out from among the apple trees to see better, his movements not quite conscious, until he was halfway toward them in the dying light.

They were practicing loading and firing while lying flat on the ground, firing prone. Caesar had never seen the Fourteenth do it, and he resolved to ask Steele whether he knew the trick of it. He could tell that it was not simple; the movement of the ramrod in the barrel while lying on your back clearly took tremendous coordination, and the men were all now soaking wet. But it was the last drill of the evening, and as the rain began to lash down, Honey had the sergeants form them up again and march them back to their cantonment. Caesar followed at a fair distance. It wasn’t that any of the marines had shown the hostility that Honey had to the black men, but that Caesar didn’t feel he wanted to give them an opportunity to show it. He was becoming careful.

Instead, he crossed through the lines to where Steele and his mess group had a hordled tent on the right of the Fourteenth. Three men of Steele’s six were sick, making the tent seem empty. Caesar knocked on the pole, taking extra care not to give rise to any resentment. White soldiers in groups were not always friendly.

“Who’s that, then?”

“Julius Caesar.”

“You know, mate, from anyone else, that name would be a joke. Come in out of the wet, then, and don’t bring it with you.”

Caesar unhooked the tent flap and slipped in. There was a dense fug of pipe smoke and unwashed soldier inside, but it was warm and snug, like the tobacco-drying shed. The men of the Fourteenth were veterans, and they knew how to live in the field. Even their mess fires were covered in brush wigwams that occasionally caught fire but kept the men warm and dry while they cooked, a habit they had “learned in Germany”. Germany was just a name to Caesar, although it occurred nightly in his readings with Sergeant Peters. Germany was a place the real Caesar had fought in, where the barbarians were hard men and cruel. Caesar liked to think that the Fourteenth had served there.

Caesar sat on another man’s pack when an outstretched palm indicated that he was welcome to it. He reached into his haversack and pulled out his tobacco box, offered it around. One soldier filled his pipe and the others simply nodded, as if accepting that he hadn’t come empty-handed. No one spoke for a moment and pipes were lit. The period before the drummers beat last call was too precious to be wasted in idle chat.

“I have questions about the drill, Tom.”

“God in heaven, look at this one, mates. He’s still on about the drill. What is it, then?” Steele turned a tolerant eye on Caesar, whose passion to learn the military arts brought a patronizing amusement in most of the regular establishment NCOs.

“Do you know how to fire lying down, Tom?”

“You’ve been watching the Jollies, you have,” said another man, Herbert Atkins by name. “They have a different manual from us, any road. No knowing what them buggers will do. All that ‘expanding’ and ‘contracting’. Poor bastards won’t know how to form a company front, soon enough.”

“Looks useful, though,” said Caesar. “Think of Great Bridge, when the rebels were in entrenchments.”

“Think how long it would take you to get to your feet and get your kit stowed if you had to move fast,” said Steele, but kindly. “I was in the Light Company, back in ’74. I probably will be again. We did some of those antics—and not another word from you, Bert Atkins. Sure, I can show you some of it. But it’s gey hard, I’ll tell you.”

“I’d esteem it a favor, Tom. And another thing. What’s an adjutant?”

Steele just shook his head. “Adjutant is an officer doing the job of a sergeant, to my way of thinkin’. He takes the rolls an’ musters, and keeps the men at their drill, but in the old days when the army was in Europe, the sergeants and the sergeant major did all that.”

“We don’ have either one.” Caesar hated going to the officers of other regiments with his accounts and muster rolls.

“You don’t have ten companies, mate,” said Bert Atkins. “Stands to reason that you don’t get all the extrees until you’ve met the establishment of a regiment.”

Steele looked embarrassed. “Every company has a barrack-room lawyer, Caesar. Bert’s ours.”

Caesar nodded at Bert, encouraging him to go on.

“Aye, well, you lot are lucky to have the likes of me to keep you from abuse, is all I can say. Caesar, when you have filled ten companies with recruits, and when the king has granted commissions to all your officers, so that every company has sixty men, and a captain an’ his lieutenant and perhaps an ensign, why then they call your battalion ‘complete’. An’ from that date, they muster you and give you a number, an’ you are regulars, or they muster you only for local service an’ call you provincials.”

“We don’t have ten companies,” said Caesar.

“That’s why you don’t have a sergeant major or an adjutant, then. Every complete battalion has ten companies of sixty men and three officers, and one of those companies are grenadiers in their high fur hats and fancy clothes, an’ the other is the poor light bobs in regiments that have them, always running about or being on patrol like huntsmen on a hunt day. They wear short coats and little leather helmets.”

“The Fourteenth don’t have a light company just now, Caesar. If they did, Bert would be in less of a hurry to speak ill of them.”

“Why not?” asked Caesar, regretting the question immediately from the gleam in Bert’s eye.

“Because light bobs cost money, don’t they? And the colonel runs his regiment like a business, don’t he? An’ is the purpose of his business to win wars? No, boys, it is not. Is the purpose that Bert an’ Tom and their mates be comfortable and warm in the field? No, mates, it is not. Is the purpose that the colonel makes a tidy profit on every cheap coat he sells us?”

Caesar interrupted the indignant flow. “Sells you?”

“Oh, aye!” called another from the back of the tent, and Steele turned a tolerant eye on Caesar.

“We buy all our gear, don’t we? Every copper is charged against our pay. But is it ours? No, lad, it ain’t. Can a lad sell his musket for a few tots? Not unless he wants a bloody back.”

“Some regiments is run different,” said Bert. “I’ve seen some as the colonel don’t care to make a copper on his lads, an’ they have all the best. Good coats, rainshirts, fancy packs that keep the wet out.”

“Like the marines?” asked Caesar, and they all looked at him as if he’d grown an extra head.

“Marines ain’t in the army, lad,” said Steele, shaking his head at Caesar’s ignorance. “They’re in the navy.”

“Paid more an’ us, too,” said another voice.

“Better an’ more o’ everything.”

“So they’re in the navy. And you don’t have a light company?”

“Even though we are required to by the warrants,” said Bert triumphantly.

“But until we have one, we won’t get our own adjutant?” asked Caesar.

Steele nodded.

Caesar nodded back at him, with much to ponder, and silence fell again, until Bert poked forward a little from his place in the back, hesitant.

“Saw you bury your man today.”

The other three white soldiers nodded, solemnly.

“Very proper, your lot looked. Sorry you lost another—we’ve been hit hard our own selves.”

Caesar nodded, surprised to be so affected by their comment.

“Thankee, gentlemen. I’ll pass your kindness to my company.” He rose as the drummer at the head of camp began tapping his drum and pulling the head taut, no easy feat in the rain, but a fair warning that the camp was about to close up. “Good night.”

“Good night, Julius Caesar!” they called from the warmth of the tent, and men in the next tent laughed.
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Marcus Antonius

Per Ardua Ad Astra
Of all the drummers in the regiment, theirs beat the best assembly. He was the best at all the calls, which didn’t keep Bludner from hating him. He was standing in front of them now, beating the call to arms like an important man, and Bludner couldn’t abide it. The drummer was the captain’s pet. He turned his flare of temper on his men.

“You bastards going to take all day?” Sergeant Bludner watched the men fall in with something like contempt. “This ain’t the milishee any more, boys. This is the Continental Army. An’ we don’ jus’ fall in whenever we feel the urge.” He had the iron ramrod from his Brown Bess musket in his hand, and he used it viciously, cutting at the last man into the line. The man fell down.

“Jesus Gawd!” the man gasped.

“Get up! Get up before I hit you again.” The man climbed slowly to his feet and Bludner regarded them all with amusement.

“I’ll say this one more time, boys. We ain’t in the milishee no more. And when Captain Lawrence tells you to fall in, you fall in. You don’ dawdle around looking for food, or whatever you last few was doin’. Listen for the drum. That drum will tell you everything you need to know to keep me on your good side. You hear assembly, you jus’ drop what you’re doin’ an’ get here with your kit on an’ your musket clean.”

He looked over the company, mostly raised from men like himself and Weymes—back-country men, hard men. But a few were farmers’ sons from the Tidewater, and they resented his bullying. He didn’t care; they were fit, but they were soft, and he had to lick them into shape.

Bludner had served in Dunmore’s campaign against the Indians in ’74. He had a low opinion of militia at the best of times, and the politically charged militia who had come out to fight the British were the worst of the lot. Most of the men who had stayed to enlist in the Virginia Regiment and join the Continental Army were men to whom a steady job of soldiering came as financial advancement. The promise of land grants was too good to be missed. Everyone in Virginia knew someone who had been enriched by the land grants to the veterans of the last war. So most of the big talkers were gone, but a few lingered, and Bludner was watching them.

“Sergeant Bludner?”

“Sergeant McCoy. Your company, sir!”

McCoy nodded and Bludner walked back to his position on the left as the company’s junior sergeant. McCoy stood in front of them for a moment as if considering them.

“On the drum. Poise your firelocks!”


It burned Bludner that they had to go through the motions to the nigger’s drum. He didn’t resent McCoy, who was a soldier, but he hated the appearance that the darky was giving orders.

They weren’t ragged. Every musket came up, and every eye was looking through his trigger guard at some invisible point in the distance.

“Rest your firelocks!”


Almost crisp, the muskets sank to a position over the right knee, firmly grasped in both hands.

“Order your firelocks!”


Every musket was brought down to the ground next to the owner’s right foot, held upright by his right hand. Sergeant McCoy had served in various armies since he was a very small boy; he had seen both better and worse. They were lucky to have such a fine drummer. It gave the men an advantage that they already knew how to follow the drum, because in battle the drum would still sound when all the voices were shouted out. He needed powder and ball to get much further. That, and time to drill with the rest of the battalion. McCoy executed a sharp about-face, glanced up and down to see if the other senior sergeants were in line, and took off his hat to indicate that his company was ready. Throughout the battalion, the same orders were repeated. Some sergeants walked along the ranks inspecting the men, while others simply talked to their men, made jokes, or stood silent. No two companies were commanded the same way.

When they were all ready, the adjutant, a small man with livid smallpox scars, called the regiment to attention.

“Fall in the officers!”

A long line of the regiment’s officers marched on to the parade. Captain Lawrence marched stiffly up to Sergeant McCoy, now posted on the right of the company. Lawrence seemed inconvenienced by the spontoon he now carried at the commander’s insistence, a weapon like a spear with a six-foot haft and a short spear blade and crossbar. McCoy fell back a step and Lawrence stepped into his place. Off to the center of the regiment, the adjutant passed command over to the colonel, who saluted him with his sword.

At the other end of the company, Sergeant Bludner was allowing his body to run like an automaton; his mind was elsewhere. While the colonel addressed them on the seeds of tyranny and love of liberty, Sergeant Bludner was examining the Captain’s drummer, and seriously considering how to seize him before they marched into Philadelphia.

Because on the docks in Philadelphia, he’d fetch them a pretty penny.