Andrew and Molly Part 12

vincent_van_gogh_-_mourning_woman

Vincent Van Gogh’s Mourning Woman

Molly shrieked Andrew’s name, hoping he’d come out of hiding, till Aggie coolly took control, quickly aware of the danger to them all.  “Quiet yourself, woman!  Go for Master Wharton.  You may bring them down on us!  We must tend the one at hand and let the men seek the others.”

Terrified, Molly raced for the cabin rousing Master Wharton to the calamity.  He was dealing with a neighbor who raced for reinforcements among the other settlers.  It had only been a brief twenty years since the Jamestown Massacre and there had been trouble several times recently.  Master Wharton and a party of twenty or followed a trail into the woods.   From broken branches, it was clear someone was being dragged.  Other women joined Aggie and Molly, helping get Bartles into the cabin.

Though he’d lost blood and was in shock from scalping and  other grave injuries, he was able to confirm they’d been attacked by Indians.  With that, he slipped into unconsciousness, unable to give any word of the other men.  Aggie  covered his head wound with a poultice bandage and treated him the best she could with herbal remedies.  He lingered between life and death for days.  When he finally roused, he remembered nothing about the incident.

The men were gone through the night while the two wives tended Bartles.  Fearing attack, the other women returned to the enclosure of the settlement, promising to return the next day with supplies and medicine.  Toward morning, the party returned with Benjamin White, barely alive, suffering from broken ribs and broken legs and arms.  The Indians had no doubt intended him for slavery, but apparently when he couldn’t keep up, they’d broken his legs, kicked in his ribs and left him for dead.  He’d also been scalped and could tell them nothing. The women and the injured returned to the safety of the settlement while the injured men fought for their lives.  Amazingly, Bartles, the older, recovered while the younger man who’d languished in the woods for hours perished from a suppurating head wound and fever.

Naturally, the colonists were terrified of a return to hostilities and remained cloistered together for days.  Molly was wild with grief at Andrew’s abduction, but held a little hope he’d survived and might somehow escape to return to her, though the hope dwindled day by day.  She’d heard enough tales to be aware he might have already been slaughtered or was enslaved at the very least.  If he didn’t manage to get away soon, he’d not likely survive long.

After the initial terror, life had to go on.  Crops had to be worked, animals tended, and work donei.  The settlement could not support the influx of outsiders for long, so they returned to their homes and lives.  Molly stayed with Aggie and Bartles in their tiny cabin to help tend Bartles during the night for a time, returning to her duties during the day.  She repaired to the barn room left vacant by Benjamin’s death as soon as Aggie could spare her, not wanting to share a cabin with Master Wharton.  A bondswoman could easily to fall into trouble that would continue her servitude.

Molly moved through her days woodenly, lost in her grief.  At first, she tried to imagine scenarios where Andrew escaped and would be returning to her.  In her dreams, he held her in his arms as they counted off the days till they’d be free with their own land, just as he’d always done.  They’d have a fine farm, extend their acreage, engage servants of their own, and have many strong sons and sweet daughters to share their lives.  They’d looked forward to growing old surrounded by loving family.  She was always devastated to awake to the reality of continuing a life of servitude alone.   Through gossip, she even learned that Master Wharton could compel her to complete Andrew’s contract when she finished her own.  The possibility of six more years faced her.  In her fear, she avoided any conversation about her future situation with Master Wharton.  She prayed he’d continue to treat her kindly, but understood he’d have to acquire a new bondsman or couple.  He’d lost two workers.  Where would that leave her?  The barn room would be needed if he only engaged a man.  Should he engage a couple and a single man, he might sell the remainder of her time to another.  God only knew what a new master might demand.  There weren’t many single women in the colony.  A woman was in danger of being abused then punished should she fall pregnant.  The best she could hope was that a fair man would buy her time and offer her marriage.  The thought of her future was terrifying.

 

 

 

 

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 7

img_1779Master Reeve’s bondsman gestured for Andrew and Molly to follow while he bundled their order. He wrapped cord around the linsey-woolsey so it could be packed more easily.  The rest of the items went into a neat paper-wrapped bundle of a weight Molly could manage, talking to the all the while.  “I am Jeffers and bound for six more years.    Wharton seems a hard but fair man.  I hope to see you in town sometimes, or on Sunday when our time is our own.  I wish you Godspeed.”  With that, he hoisted and settled the heavy bundle of yard goods on Andrew’s back and loaded Molly’s arms with her parcels.

The two labored under their burdens as they made their way along the rutted track.  The morning sun was already hot, the air muggy.  Andrew hadn’t gone far before the weight of the pack ate into his shoulders.  He rested his weary back by leaning against a tree a time or two, knowing he’d never get the pack back on if he took it off.  Molly shifted her bundles frequently as she fatigued.  After a half a mile, they rounded a curve to see the Wharton farm in a stump-filled clearing.  A hearty stand of tobacco took up most of the cleared ground, a patch of corn and a kitchen garden the rest.  Clearly, tobacco was the major crop.  Early on, the colony had nearly perished when farmers opted to plant all their ground in tobacco, the lucrative option, rather than food crops. A law was passed requiring each farm to provide a portion of corn to the community storehouse, enabling them to feed themselves, rather than rely on England to import food.

The cabin was strictly utilitarian, a modest one-story dwelling of rough timber, a well in the dooryard.  The garden plots crowded up to the house, no cleared ground wasted.  A rough outbuilding stood to the rear of the house.  The stumps attested to farmland wrenched from the forest.  Andrew got a glimpse of his future beholding the forest eager to reclaim the cleared ground.  Master Wharton would be granted an additional fifty acres each for paying the transport his servant’s passage to the colony, a good deal indeed.  The colony was desperate for cheap labor to work the farms, relying on the indentured and enslaved.  Sadly, only about forty percent of the indentured lived to work out the terms of their service.

Master Wharton was waiting as they walked up.  A gray-haired woman and an emaciated man in his fifties stood with him.  “This is my bondsman, Bartle and his wife Aggie.  They are about to work out their time.  He will be teaching you smithing and your woman will work under Aggie.”  If he knew their names, he didn’t bother using them.  “They will show you to your quarters and get you started after supping.”

Andrew and Molly Part 4

img_1742The site of Jamestown Colony was nothing like the home they’d left.  They’d felt pride in their natal farm though they’d belonged to it, not the other way around.  Born to its manicured meadows, neat hedgerows, and trim outbuildings, its upkeep had been a part of every day.  Born to thatched stone cottages in the shadow of the imposing barns and carriage house, they’d attended the chapel attached to the mossy, old manor house.  They felt pride of place by virtue of family tradition; it was their work and the work of their fathers before them that stretched behnd them.  They were often in need and sometimes Ill-treated, but they had a tie to the land.  Had not fate intervened, their children would have worked and lived as they had.

Jamestown of 1643 was not a welcoming site.  The vessel had tied to a crude wooden wharf.  At the site of the rough timber fence surrounding the town, they didn’t have to be warned not to rush to disembark.  A rutted, muddy trail led into the fort of nondescript houses.  Blazing sun beat down as men in tattered rags, both black and white, gathered to await their turn unloading cargo from below.  Mosquitoes buzzed around their heads and bore down, appreciative of the new blood.  The humid air was thick with the smell of newly-turned earth, smoke, and manure from the enclosed animals.

Instead of fields of grain butting up to hedgerows, unfamiliar plots of large-leaf tobacco stood in large patches outside the high walls.  Lesser squares of corn , beans, and squash clustered around nearby cabins built close enough that occupants could easily reach the enclosed settlement as needed.  Enormous forests of tall trees pushed up to the farms and fields.

img_1741As they surveyed all that lay before them, the forests were most impressive.  England’s  sparse woodlands could not compare. Though the settlement was raw and unfamiliar, they realized the intimidating forest held the future for those hardy enough to wrest it out.  All they had to do was serve out their next four years to claim their portion, not thinking those same forests were home to indigenous people who’d thrived there for millennia.

 

Images pulled from internet

 

 

 

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