Friday, August 3, 2012

A Devil in Jersey: Prologue

These are the times that try men’s souls…


From the Military Journal of Lieutenant Jonathan Longwynde December 1776, at Fort Ticonderoga

By letters from officers, and by other information from our main army, we learn with sorrow that our affairs in that quarter are in a most deplorable and almost desperate situation. Since the evacuation of New York, several battles and skirmishes have taken place between the two armies, with considerable loss on both sides. Fort Washington and Fort Lee have fallen into the hands of the enemy, with considerable number of prisoners and loss of most of our army’s stores and cannon.

Our army, being reduced to the lowest ebb, discouraged and dispirited, are retreating through the Jerseys. They are said to number not above three thousand and are in some considerable disorder. The enemy numbering some ten thousand under General Cornwallis is in close pursuit. It is said that the only thing delaying Cornwallis’ advance is the large number of Jerseymen who flock about him seeking to renew their loyalty to the Crown.

Such is now the gloomy aspect of our affairs that the whole country has taken alarm; strong apprehensions are entertained that the British will soon have it in their power to vanquish the whole of the remains of the continental army.

I fear that it likely that our cause and our nation shall not survive the winter.

To the Reverend Samuel Longwynde
Grier Hall, Lancaster County

My dear Reverend,

You must forgive an old man his negligence in failing to write to you these many months. Although no excuse, I must plead my attention to the public business, the troubled condition of which I am sure word has reached you even in your pastoral retreat.

It is in the public service that I now write to you. In my capacity with the Congress, I have received reports of events, outside of the ordinary course of the present conflict, that are most troubling. These are matters currently occurring not overly distant from Philadelphia that would benefit most especially from the unique knowledge and experience that you possess in such abundance.

Such is the nature of these events that I dare not render them further in this letter lest it fall into the wrong hands. I therefore entreat you to come to Philadelphia at the earliest possible date that I may apprise you of this matter and seek your counsel in its disposition.

I am aware of my presumption at asking you to undertake an arduous journey at this time of year and the country being in such a state of disorder but I do not do so lightly. I do not exaggerate to say that it is a matter that may concern the fate of the whole of this continent. I do, therefore, urge you to the utmost haste.

Believe me, dear Sir,
Your obliged and faithful humbl. sert.,

B. Franklin

Excerpt from A Hussy’s Progress, the Autobiography of Moll Daggett

Chapter the Fourth
How I Become an Honest Woman

Now tis well said that every cat has nine lives and, if that be true then sure every mort or hussy must have an even dozen lives to spare. As you, gentle reader, have seen, I had enjoyed four full lives ere I had turned three and twenty. That is to say, that of orphaned Irish peasant lass, then scandalous convent novice, then London sister of the street, and, anon, consort to a pirate captain. Although that last is perhaps giving my poor late Jemmy Dagget too much credit, for he had a far gentler soul and a lack of ambition as to prevent him becoming one of the truly dread sea rovers.

All this being said, the strangest epoch of my life only now began. For this was the time when I did hope to make myself, although somewhat against my will, into that most harrowing of creatures, a Good Woman. And the Saints preserve me if twas not the most dangerous status I entered.

As I last said, my darling Jemmy had decided that the waters of the West Indies had grown too hot for such humble likes as the crew of the Bonnie Charlie and so we had got ourselves North where the colonist had no love for the Crown and Crown law held little sway. We found ourselves in that most desperate haven of pirates north of the Nags Head, the town of Lewes in County Sussex of Delaware. And a flash fine hideout twas, exceptionally welcoming to any as had the loot to support himself. Of course, in those days, our loot was far from plentiful and we had gone many a turn without.

So I thought it quite the grand opportunity when agents of the Congress came about, veritably strewning letters of marque to any as had the jingles to sail against the Crown as privateers. Jemmy, proud fool that he was, refused to take up a letter from the rebels, asking why he should give up any portion of his hard-got loot just for a scrap of paper from some pettifogging land sharks in Philadelphia town.

So instead of becoming a Patriot and a Hero, he took us to smuggling again, molasses for the most part, as honest a trade as one could find in those days. Now it was that the gentlemen of the new Government had their piss all afire, looking to display the new Sovereignty of their mighty Declaration. This they settled on doing by ordering that there was to be no more pirating save with their license. It fell to us to be the first object lesson of their new power.

This lesson they delivered on us by way of a couple of their new gunboats. What a sad affair twas. We had the honor to be done in by neither the Royal Navy nor even the impudent Continental Navy but fell to the mere Pennsylvania Navy, jumped up bachelors’ sons the lot of them.

Our poor Bonnie Charlie was naught but a small schooner of a couple masts and a brace of guns of four-pound weight of shot. As luck would have it, they came upon us on rope-yarn day when most of our small crew was working on their laundry and all of us drunker than Davey’s Sow. Quick as kindling, they made enough holes in us as to serve as a Swisser’s Cheese.

To make a short story e’en shorter, the Bonnie Charlie went down off Henlopen Cape with my poor, beloved Jemmy aboard. I would have no doubt wet my eyes with bitter tears had I the time to reflect on the losing of my man but I was knocked arsey varsey into the drink on the first broadside. Thereupon, I came to Old Mackerel and two or three others of the crew who had gone into the water and we made for shore.

Somehow, we reached dry land but twas from the sauce pan into the fire. A troop of militia lay in wait for us. They set to serving us a breakfast of morning choke with caper sauce from the nearest tree. Old Mackerel went first and the others followed. They would have had me take that last dance at the hempen ball but for me puffing up, pleading my belly, and claiming those Navy coves had massacred my poor husband, father of my unborn babe, and he an innocent fisher and we prisoners of the dread pirates that had been so justly dispatched, etc.

Now the leader of these militiamen was not the most clot-pated lout I would e’er meet (him shall I describe anon) but, sure, he gave to it a good run for the money. I was very good at making myself weepy in those days and twas not all play acting, sure, with my poor Jemmy like to a feast for the crabs at that very time. Praise God, twas my blubbering that got past his stupidity. Or perchance twas his idleness that saved my life, for they had run short of rope by then.

So instead of hanging, they haul me out to one of the gunboats, and hand me o’er to the Captain thereon, one Hazelwood by name, and a right dutiful dog in a doblet he was. Furious he was that they had hung the menfolk in my crew for he would to have experienced sailors for his crew, scoundrels though they be. Instead, he balled at them, they bring him some pirate’s whore and what could he make of that? Of course, I kept my suggestions as to that query to myself for I could see that Captain Hazelwood was firm, fierce man. Also, I knew he accepted not my protestations of innocence nor those of my delicate condition. However, he fancied himself the gentleman and did not lift my skirts to see if I lied about being with child. Instead, he clapped me in irons and hauled me all the way to Philadelphia.

There I was put to the examination by a midwife. Unfortunately, they had found a sober one. I was found not to be with child and therefore fit to stand trial as accessory to pirating.

After many days where I was held in a befouled goal cell, I was taken afore a judge. This was a cribbage-faced old rascal who belike had come o’er with the quaking Billy Penn by the looks of him. Needless to say, there was scant look of mercy in his face, even though I had gone down on my marrowbones to plead for that rare commodity, a Philadelphian’s sympathy.

He seemed about to set the date for my hemp-collar-wearing day, when, a sudden, a tall, prim cove entered the court. This one was dressed all as midnight with a parson’s white slabbering bib about his neck. What ho, thought I, some man of the cloth here to save a poor errant soul! And who is not more deserving for that than your humble servant! So I put on my best face of poor innocence embattled by a cruel world and asked him in choking, crocodilian sobs to pray for the soul of this poor sinner. Oh, the holy sisters had taught me some talents aright.

My hopes did rise for he approached the cankered old ermine-coated hugger-mugger, and there was much whispering and pointing at me. Finally, after what I thought was a small purse passed from the hand of the soul doctor into the all too commodious sleeves of His Honor, the Reverend retired to the rear of the courtroom. The judge pulled a great face and glowered at me, calling all sorts of names that he no doubt thought horrid but were, in truth, hardly more than a “good morrow, goodwife,” when compared with what I had been called whilest I dwelt in London. Finally he came to the point and declared that the new State of Pennsylvania had taken mercy upon my poor benighted soul and rather than hang I was to be passed into seven years servitude to the Right Reverend Samuel Longewynde of Lancaster County.

With that I was released and the good sky farmer takes me in hand.

“Mrs. Daggett,” says he. “I know you not yet but shall soon have a chance to measure your character. You have nothing to fear from me for I am reckoned a kind master to my people but I shall not tolerate any moral …ah… failings on your part. Also, I shall expect of you work far harder than you can imagine. There may be days in the future when you might come to think the gallows would have been a better choice.”

Of course, I thought this extraordinary speech so much twaddle and he naught but a mewling periwinkle like so many of his profession. So I gave him a moist eye and uttered up my most sincere thanks that he had saved me from a wicked life. Of course, I said it in such a way as to suggest that he could have a more material sign of my gratitude if he wanted it. He wasn’t half bad looking even for an old man on the far side of forty and I thought that working as the tub thumper’s Scotch bed warmer might make my way a bit easier. But Lord save me he, he was an honest man, so in response to my batted eye, he merely grunted and muttered something about finding me clothes more suitable for my new position as his housekeeper and cook.

Given the poor state of my frock from weeks in prison and the months before that in a floating Delaware johnny house, I was in sore need of a change of linen. He took me then to a dressmaker’s shop just off the Market Street, and bought several sets of clothes for me. Simple and dark dresses they were but of fine broad clothe with good linen and the petticoats well made. He also bought me two fine pairs of leather shoes, all of it costing well over £20.

Well, girl, thought I, if this be servitude, then I’ll be a happy little Hagar. Mind I did keep my old Jemmy’s laced and feathered tricorn that I found afloating in my swim ashore. The Reverend was kind enough to allow me to keep it as a remembrance.

Then he deposited me at a rooming house where a nasty-faced old trull, named Mrs. Marshall, fed me well but watched over me like a hawk, no doubt fearing that I would steal the silver, seduce her husband, and piss in her tea if she left me alone for a nonce.

Betimes, the soul dipper returned with a handsome young sprat in tow. It seemed that the whole reason that the good Reverend had come to Philadelphia, and so incidentally was able to save the life of a certain pretty young mort, was to fetch his younger son back to the wilds of County Lancaster. It seemed the parson was afeared this one, young David by name and a fine lad of fifteen years, would trot off and join the rebels who were being thrashed awful up in New York. Since his eldest son, Jonathan, was already with the Continentals freezing off their twiddle-diddles in Canada, I suppose he felt it best to keep his spare son close to hand.

We set off the next day for my new home. It was a fine autumn day, early September and a sweet breeze blowing the dust to our backs. Also, twas no shanks pony for us, we went in the good Reverend’s fine carriage. On the second day, when it rained, it was even allowed me to ride within the carriage itself, and not atop like the servant I was.

During that time, he and his son spoke often in foreign tongues, mostly Latin and Greek when they did not wish me to understand them. Of course, the good sisters had beaten a fair amount of the Roman into me along with a smattering of Greek. I chose not to let on to knowing what was said, never knowing when it might come in handy. It did me little good that trip anyway for they seemed reticent to talk freely even in a foreign langue. I did catch them referring to some bad things being about in the country which I thought them referring to the fighting. They also spoke of the recent, gruesome death of the Reverend’s manservant, Edwards, but whether from fire or boils I was not able to make out.

Twas about seventy miles from Philadelphia to the Reverend’s humble farm. This we traveled easily in less than three days. When I saw the place, I felt that I had come home at last. It was as fine a holding as any I’d ere seen with a big stone house, well appointed with the trim freshly painted and a cloud of fine sturdy outbuildings surrounding. A great orchard of apple trees stretched to large distant fields, where the high standing crops were being taken in by a troop of hired men. All this, as far as the eye could see in that rich green valley, belonged to the Reverend, my new master. Sure, thought I, the good sisters of the convent must have been saying prayers for their prodigal daughter for I have landed in a far better berth than I had any right to expect or deserve.

I learned that this great estate was not the fruit of the Reverend’s toil but an apron string hold, the good thunder caller having married extremely well, his late wife being the daughter of some local squireen. In this, I owed much to the lady, for his late beloved was some sort of bleeding cully, taking in any stray that might come across the threshold. So there were more than the usual mob of cats and dogs about the place, several flocks of bird, and e’en a tamed bear who lived in a pen just off the springhouse. And their charity extended to the two-legged animal, with your humble servant being only the most recent acquisition. In honor of her memory, or perhaps by force of habit, the good Dominee followed this practice slavishly.

And so, I came to be in his household serving as Mistress of the Skillet and Mopsqueezer General. Sure, thought I, I had finally found Fiddlers’ Green. The place had such fine belly timber. While there was no rum, there was a passable whiskey made from Indian corn. The Reverend had several acres planted in tobacco. As I had retained his pipe as another remembrance of my beloved Jemmy, I was able to enjoy a good choke of fogus when the house had all gone a bed.

I soon came to hold much authority in the household, for the housemaids were naught but three slabbish dishclouts, and the hired men naught but the rudest Dutch bumpkins who spoke English almost as bad as a Welchman. They had ne’er seen the likes of a London-trained mort such as I. The maids I bulled into submission by a shout or two and only one bethumping of the biggest of the lot. The hired men I soon had in the traces, using simple harlots’ tricks of the well-placed slap, followed by a wink, and mayhaps a quick peak at my apple dumpling shop and soon they were all following me about as trained lapdogs.

The young Master David I saw little of during this time. Being such an unlicked cub, he was oft away from the house, seeking solace with his friends at missing the excitement of being skewered upon one of His Majesty’s bayonets. Thus I had but little dealings with him but he seemed pleasant enough in dreamy, wastrel sort of way.

Now there was another child in the house, a product of that aforementioned practice of charity that marked the Reverend and his late lady. At some time, they had acquired an Indian orphan, rescued from some long ago massacre when she was but a babe. The girl, called Rebecca by her adoptive father, was now sixteen years of age and was the prettiest thing I had ever seen, raven haired and dark eyed but with a spirit, no doubt from her savage blood, that shown fiercely from her eyes. Even with two sons of soldiering age and there a war in the country, I could see that twas this young chit that caused the Reverend the most worry, for in addition to her beauty she showed a most unchristian interest in the young gentleman of the vicinity. There seemed always to be a mob of these sniffing about young Rebecca. And having been myself the like, I could see she would as soon become a short-heeled girl, that is, one like to fall on her back, if her father was not careful. Thus, I took much pains to hie off her would-be bung-tappers as soon as they showed their mainmasts about our yard, having known that the single-mindedness of such young coves were like a pack of hound who’d caught scent of a bitch’s heat. The Reverend was most appreciative of my attention to his daughter’s virtue and grew to hold great trust in my opinion of the scoundrel side of humankind.

I learned soon that there was an inmate of this strange household that was more in need of my care than young Rebecca. This proved to be the companion in arms of the absent eldest son. Master Jonathan, who, truth be told, if he were at all alike his portrait could lead me into moral …a… failings as frequent as he liked, was much missed by his father. The young man had run off much against his father’s wishes, joined the Continentals, and had survived but barely the fierce slaughter at Quebec. He had sent home, though, a fine remembrance of the battle, that being one Sergeant Gabriel Fenniman. This tatterdemalion scarecrow had served with Master Jonathan through some terrible marches upcountry and then put his breast in front of the British bullets during the Quebec fight to save the young Master’s life so earning the everlasting gratitude of Longwynde the Younger. At great expense, the Sergeant was got home to Pennsylvania, in hopes of being healed but, as more like, to enjoy being planted as a flower in a bed of Lancaster dirt. For in addition to his wounds, the good Sergeant was suffering from a host of ailments, including ague, quinsy, trots, barrel fever, and the bloody flux. Surprising for a soldier, he had not the French Pox. Still, he looked like Death’s Head upon a mop stick and I thought he would soon be napping in his narrow dirt bed for certain.

Fenniman, though not what one would think a bluffer, proved to be made of the sternest stuff. He had been born on the frontier in the wilds west of Carlisle and was thought to be a woodsman of some repute. Nor was I so useless to his recovery for the sisters had taught me a thing or two about the healing, and I had learned a thing or two more about treating hurts acquired in the hard-knock school of the sea, not to mention the necessary medicinal arts needed to prevent the occupational hazard amongst London doxies. All this combined to speed his healing and by the beginning of October, he was well enough to leave his bed and do small work about the house. For he was that most troubling of men, one who could not sit idle but must always be a worrying at things. Mind, such a one could be of use in the venereal pursuits, for thoroughness is a virtue there, but still this same character made Fennimen peevish and bothersome with him trying to rush his healing.

Added to the problem of my Sulky Sergeant, new consternations soon entered my life at Grier Hall, which had for so short a time approached that about which the idyll-makers sing. Twas about the start of November, when I had been in the house but two months that along came that sour Dutchman to darken our door. Mien Herr Zizzendorf, was hired by the Reverend to replace his recently deceased manservant. This scurrilous cove was as sour a pickle as one could find, an old soldier from Old Frederick’s army as he never tired of reminding us, who thought us all beneath his contempt and incapable of accomplishing anything. I soon grew to loathe his favorite phrasing, “In ze Prusshian AArmee, ve did it zis vay!” Sweet Saint Columba, what a sir reverence he was, more like a bailiff than butler.

We soon had high words over every trifle and I know he spoke ill of me to the Reverend for I over heard the cabbaged-headed sprat talking to him one day, saying how improper and unacceptable for a man of the cloth to have a “common criminalish Voman” at labor for him. Dear Joy, the man made me sound like a simple cutpurse when I was as fine a burglar, pickpocket, and Drury Lane Vestal as London ever knew, not to mention my two years piratical! Common criminal indeed! The good Reverend was most dismissive, saying merely that he had need of my skills in his higher work and could ignore the idle gossiping of his neighbors. Now later, much to my ill fortune, I apprehended why the Reverend had gone to such trouble to acquire my services but at the time, I thought naught of that strange speech.

None in the house much cared for the Dutchman either, for he seemed to think that he had rule over the rest of us and he had acquired the ear of the Reverend right handily. I took comfort in the fact that, according to the others in the house, the good Reverend lost his manservants at a surprising rate, at least two or three a year. There had been one particularly bad year wherein he had lost five. This surprised me for the Reverend did not seem a hard master, why should so many leave his service? To this, they responded that they not left his service but they were killed, often in the most horrid of manners, whilst assisting the Master in his special work.

“And what is this special work?” I asked.

“Why, he is a hunter after witches and demons,” came the reply.

Before I could inquire further, there is the Reverend calling for me, to prepare to join him in a journey back to Philadelphia…

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