Andrew and Molly Part 13

Molly felt a change in the air when she went into the post with Aggie with trade goods.  A pretty woman attracted a lot of attention where men vastly outnumbered women.  From time to time, a ship arrived bearing women convicts involuntarily indentured.  As often as not, they were offered marriage.  Should they go to a house without a wife and not be offered marriage, their future was unsure.  Rape was an ever present concern for a bondswoman with punishment for pregnancy out of wedlock a surety.  Molly felt the men looking at her differently, now Andrew was gone.  One or two who’d been eyeing her tried to buy her bond from Wharton, though thankfully, so far he’d declined.  Molly knew with the spring work looming ahead, he’d have to engage help.  She kept as close to home as possible, hoping not to attract attention.

In her grief, she wasn’t thriving, going about her tasks by rote.  Aggie treated her much more warmly, initiating conversations and sharing tales of her girlhood, courtship and early marriage.  Without her to take her mind off her troubles, Molly had little else to think of except her fear and grief.

After a few weeks, Molly’s fears eased a bit when Master Wharton made no move to change their situation.  She worked hard, trying to make his home comfortable and Aggie made sure she knew just how he liked his favorite dishes and how he liked things done.  When her appetite returned, she thought it was because she took pride in her cooking.  When she started throwing up and her breasts got tender she feared it was something else.  Molly had confided to a friend at chapel, she was sleeping in the barn again to guard against the appearance of evil.  While Bartles and Aggie were glad she was protecting her reputation, they were fearful her confidence might attract unwelcome company.  Master Wharton insisted she keep the door barred and Jackie at her side when she was abed.  Between them, Wharton and Bartles resolved to keep her safe.  Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Jackie woke her lunging at the door and barking.  Master Wharton fired shots at a man fleeing in the woods.

Aggie noted Molly going about her labors with her collar button opened when she came over with some baking.  “Why is your collar button undone?  It’s a cool morning?  When I was in the family way, the first thing I noticed was a tight collar button.  How long since you had your courses?”

Molly stammered.  “I’m not sure.  I think it was a week or so before Andrew was lost.”

“I thought you had the look of breeding.  Have you been sick in the mornings?”  Aggie went on.  “Do you have cravings?  How long since you had your tea every day?”

Molly looked devastated.  “I never thought of it since the trouble, till I got sick in the mornings and my breasts felt tender, but Aggie, I can’t give this child up, no matter what.  It’s the last of Andrew.  What if he comes back?  I know I could punished for breeding, but there has to be a way.  Anyone can count back and know when this babe was conceived.  It would be too cruel to take it from me when I’ve nothing else.  What am I going to do?  Is there any way you and Bartles could buy my bond?  I’ll work for you as long as you ask me to if you’ll just help me save my baby!”

“Oh Molly, we have just a few coins after equipping our cabin.  It’s not possible for us to buy a bushel of corn, much less your contract.  Of course, you and the child could stay with us, but the master has already lost two bondsman.  It’s doubtful he could give you your freedom, even if you stayed with us.  We’ll have to talk to Bartles about all this.  It puts you in a terrible place.  A woman in the family way with no man is in terrible danger in this place.”

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Andrew and Molly Part 9

img_1779WhilesWharton had other matters to attend, Andrew and Bartles worked for hours that afternoon sawing trees with a cross-cut saw, chopping off branches with an ax, then piling the brush for later burning.  Andrew’s back ached and the muscles of his arms screamed.  At the end of the day, they were rewarded with a half-dozen stumps, a huge pile of brush, and a stack of logs.  The timber would be transported to a nearby sawmill for processing into lumber.  Wharton told Andrew he could take what he needed to fashion a room in the barn.  The remainder would be used on the place or sold in the colonies or shipped back to England.  Timber was one of the most important crops shipped back to England since her forests had been stripped.  Ship-building, an important trade, was always hungry for lumber. During a brief break, Bartles told him they usually worked the crops in the early morning, then split the afternoon between lumbering and blacksmithing as the need and weather permitted.  Blacksmithing was illegal in the colonies, but since their product was not great enough to impact the demand from England, they’d not had a problem yet.

Aggie sent Molly out with a pewter pitcher of beer and the men paused for a short break.  Battles spoke to the two of them.  When she turned to leave them, Bartles bade her stay. ” I came here as a bondsman almost four years ago.  I’d done blacksmithing on an estate in England.  Like you, my master died and I had to move on.  We’d have starved if we hadn’t bonded. It was a devilish passage we made, more than twelve weeks.  That’s when we met Master Wharton, but he warn’t no master then.  He was a sailor what broke his leg two days out and couldn’t work.  We took care of him or he’d have never lived.  When we got here, ship’s captain bound him over for lost work owed.  We was all bound to Mistress Ipswich when we landed, the woman that owned this farm. She was a hard, God-fearing woman, the meanest Christian I ever knew.  She took a fancy to Master Wharton not long after.  Once she was set on marrying him, he had no choice.  She meant to have him, one way or another.  He give up and married her after awhile, even though he didn’t have no fondness for her.  It was a hard bargain with never a minutes’ peace.  After a year or so, she fell out with a fit and died three days later.  He was Master after that.  When he found out I could smith, he got me a forge and helped me get a start.  I get to keep half I make.  He don’t have to let me keep nothing.  My time will be up in a few months and I’d be proud to teach you.  I’m telling you this so you’ll know you’ve got a chance.  Didn’t me nor Wharton have nothing when he got here.  Now he’s got a fine farm and soon, me and Aggie will be worked our time out an able to make a living.  Do right by Wharton and he’ll do right by you.  He don’t need to know we talked.  Lots of bondsman die before they finish their time, but you got a good place.”

Molly and Andrew were greatly heartened by Bartle’s story.  “I thank you for telling us, Bartles.”  Andrew told him.  “We are grateful.”  Molly flashed him a smile as she turned back to the house with the pitcher.

“I’d best get back in the house before Aggie skins me.”

“That she will,” chuckled Bartles.  “She don’t tolerate no slacking in herself nor nobody else, but she’s a good woman.”

Andrew and Molly Part 5

JAMESTOWN. Female convicts transported from English prisons arriving in Jamestown, Virginia as indentured servants, although often becoming wives in mass weddings with the male settlers: colored engraving, 19th century.

JAMESTOWN.
Female convicts transported from English prisons arriving in Jamestown, Virginia as indentured servants, although often becoming wives in mass weddings with the male settlers: colored engraving, 19th century.

Immediately upon disembarking, Andrew and Molly along with others not already engaged were escorted to warehouse lodgings and given beer and a heartening stew of squash, beans, corn, yams, and meat, their first meat in seven weeks.  The men and women were separated and instructed to choose clothing from a pile of castoffs before bathing and delousing with some herbal concoction whose noxious odor was helpful in warding off mosquitoes. When the men were led off to be locked away for the night, Molly wept and clung to Andrew, fearing she’d never see him again.  She had no faith in the agent’s assurance that they’d be placed together.  Despite her grief, she slept hard in the deep hay that served as bedding for the exhausted women.  For the first night in months, she didn’t fear assault.

The next morning, the colonists gathered just after daybreak to choose among servants.  Molly, along with the other women, ate a hasty breakfast of beer and bread, made a hasty toilet, and prepared for selection, praying Providence would be kind. As the men turned out, Andrew hurried to Molly’s side.  As the selection began, the agent presented the bonded, praising their health, intelligence, and skills, real or concocted on the spot.  Some were labeled distillers, others as cabinet makers, or boat-builders.  True to his word, he proclaimed Andrew and Molly must go to the same master.  To their surprise, they heard the agent confide to Master Wharton that Andrew was a skilled blacksmith and that Molly could weave and spin.  The colonists were legally forbidden to forge their own tools and ironwork, so this would have to be a clandestine operation.  Like most forbidden practices, smithing was made more attractive.

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Encouraged to think he was engaging a blacksmith and a woman who could weave and spin, Master Wharton spoke directly to Andrew.  “You look right, enough.  My blacksmith will be soon work free, but might have long enough to teach you some.  Do you think you can pick it up fast?  I’ll not tolerate a slacker.  If you give me your pledge, I’ll take you and your wife.  Should you fail, I’ll sell your bond.”

“I’ll not fail if you take us both, that I swear.” Andrew asserted, looking him in the eye. “My wife never learned weaving nor spinning.  I’d not have you expect that.  She tended the dairy and is skilled at butter and cheese-making, nothing more.”

“I have no need of a weaver, just a housekeeper.  I’ll bond you.  You’ll get lodging, food, and a new suit of clothes now and once a year.  You will work dawn to dusk every day with Sunday for worship and rest. Give me value and we’ll have no trouble.”  Their new master strode off to tend his business, leaving them to wait together.

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