The Journey West
1749 – Autumn
Thomas Mallory stopped chopping and took a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow. ‘Saints preserve us,’ he sighed, ‘it will take more wood than this to see us through the winter.’ He gazed about and took in the sights of the small lease held farm he worked with his family. His wife Abigail was baking bread in the outdoor oven. His eldest son Daniel was over in the field harvesting the last of the squash and pumpkin. His only daughter Elizabeth was spreading feed for the ducks and chickens. Liam, the youngest son was nowhere to be seen as he was out hunting. ‘Aye and what about the spring? What will they think about my plans for the spring?’
Thomas never did much like farming. The plot of land that he leased from a wealthy member of the Philadelphia merchant aristocracy was barely sufficient to feed his family and make a profit. For fifteen years he toiled, saving up every last farthing so that at last they could move West and begin a new life. He had met William Trent, an adventurous woodsman and one time officer in the Virginia militia a few years back when he stopped by the farm looking for a place to bed down for a few nights. He regaled them with his stories of the frontier, about his trip down The Ohio and the opportunities waiting for men with vision and courage. ‘This is only the beginning’, said William, ‘but I plan on opening a trading post along the Allegheny River. If I’m any judge of events then it won’t be long before the frontier will be teeming with them that’s looking to make their fortune. Hunters and trappers at first and then with settlers. Once things have settled there it will be back to The Ohio to start another trading post.’
The seed of adventure and profit was duly planted in Thomas so when William asked him to be his partner in a recent letter he quietly accepted to himself. The time to tell the family would come soon enough. All he needed to do now was to convince his wife Abigail that the move would be more than worth the risks involved as the area in question was in dispute between the British, the French and the various tribes of Indians, some of which sided with the British and some with the French.
‘Pa?’ exclaimed Daniel as he gazed off to the woodland that bordered the tilled soil, ‘Here comes Liam, looks like we’ll be havin’ venison for supper.’ ‘Aye that it does,’ replied Thomas. ‘He may not help out much here but I am glad he’s such a fine hunter and with bow and arrow no less. S’pose I shouldn’t complain about that, arrows is cheaper than powder and lead.’
‘Okay Pa, can I ask Pierre to join us, he’s in need of a good meal as well and it’s him that taught me to shoot.’
Shrugging his shoulders and smiling, Thomas replied, ‘Don’t see why not. Least we can do to repay him for teaching you to shoot so well. Besides, I was going to suggest you bring him along. My news may interest him.’
Liam finished the butchering, hanging some of the venison in the smokehouse and bringing the rest to his mother Abigail. ‘Here you are Ma. We’re having company for dinner tonight. I’m just leaving to fetch Pierre and the Clarkes. Pa says he has some news to tell everyone. Wonder what it is.’
‘Your Pa can be secretive but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with that letter that he got the other day. He doesn’t know that I know about it. I do know that it has him talking to himself. Ask Daniel to bring me another bucket of water, need to make more stew if our guests want to eat.’
After relaying his mother’s request to Daniel, Liam headed down the path at a slow trot on the farm’s draft horse. It was only a couple of miles to the Clarke’s cabin on the other side of the village and Pierre was in the village so that is where he stopped first. ‘Liam, my young friend, what brings you out of the woods and into civilization today? Is there an emergency at the farm?’ inquired Pierre washing his hands and arms in the basin he kept outside, cleaning off the guts and blood of a young fox he found dead yesterday and had been dissecting. ‘No emergency, unless that’s what you call a dinner invite,’ replied Liam, ‘Pa has something he wants to tell us and asks if you can come over. I’m off to ask the Clarkes the same.’ Pierre nodded his head and said, ‘I’ll head over as soon as I get cleaned up.’
The Clarke cabin was situated on a plot of land that was for all intents and purposes a peninsula as the river at that point formed an upside down U. The landlord, a wealthy Virginia aristocrat, had supplied the village with the means to build a small mill and with a forge for blacksmith work. It was on this piece of land that Joseph set up both. When Liam arrived with the dinner invitation, Joseph was repairing a wagon wheel, the sound of hammer on anvil echoing off the dense forest across the river. Henry was cleaning a raccoon hide with the fur still attached, a task he was having difficulty with as it was his mother who used to take care of these sorts of things. Martha Clarke had been a very industrious woman with many talents and was sorely missed by her husband and son. She had contracted a fever the year before and died despite the ministrations of her family and Pierre.
Joseph saw Liam first and so after one last clang of the hammer he put it down, wiped the sweat from his face and walked over to the cabin. ‘Well howdy there young Mallory,’ said Joseph as he extended his hand in greeting, ‘What brings you to our bend in the river?’ Liam slid off the back of his horse and accepted a cup of cool water from Henry and said, ‘My Pa asks if you and Henry would come by tonight for dinner. Got me a fine buck today and Pa has something he wants to talk about.’
‘Can’t say no to some fresh venison and fine company,’ answered Joseph, ‘Besides it will save me from having to eat the less than savory stew that we two cook up. By the crowning glory of the Holy Trinity I surely do miss my wife. I’ll have Henry hitch up our wagon and while he’s doing that I’ll grab a couple jugs of ale to add to the festivities.’
Rather than ride home on the broad, saddleless work horse, Liam hitched him next to the Clarkes’ horse and climbed into the back of the wagon. ‘What’s that you’re working on Henry?’
Henry tossed the raccoon hide to Liam, ‘Trying to stretch this out for a winter hat. Thought it would be a nice present for your sister Elizabeth. If I trap a couple more of these critters I can make her some mittens as well.’
Tossing the hide back to Henry, Liam said laughingly, ‘I’m sure she’ll be pleased. Just the other day she said to me that she hoped handsome Henry would make her a raccoon cap and mittens.’ It was no secret that Henry was in love with Liza and had been since they were old enough to talk. Liza was fifteen now and had grown into a very beautiful woman and while she wasn’t exactly leading Henry on, she did occasionally drop hints about other boys in the village being desirable when she felt Henry was acting too complacent about their relationship.
The rest of the trip to the Mallory farm was taken up mostly with talk of a hunting trip they were planning when the first snowfall came. When they arrived, Pierre was helping Liza set up a spit of venison over the outdoor fire pit. Thomas and Daniel were setting up some roughhewn stools for sitting on while they enjoyed one of the last warm September evenings. Soon it would turn bitterly cold and snowy, at least it would seem so as the woolly caterpillars had a thicker coat than usual and as if on cue a flock of geese passed overhead, their V pointed south. As they clambered off the wagon Liza turned toward them and said with a mischievous grin, ‘Welcome Mr. Clarke. I see handsome Henry has accompanied you. I thought he may have left the village as he has not been by to see me in at least two weeks.’ While Henry tried to sputter a reply they all sat down and started passing the ale jug chuckling at Henry’s discomposure. Liza went back to the cabin to help her mother and the menfolk settled into talking between sips.
Thomas, eager to learn more about Pierre, asked him to relate his tale of how he came to be in Rivertown. Pierre gazed into each one’s eyes and gauged that the time was right for telling the whole story and so he began, ‘When I was a young boy growing up in Southern France, my parents would take me traveling. My father was a trade merchant and did very well by it and would take the family on some of his trading expeditions to Spain and North Africa. I would invariably find a way to lose myself in the towns and villages while my father and older brother were busy with customers and my mother was too involved dealing with my two younger sisters to notice my absence. I have always been a curious sort and was fascinated by other cultures, how they lived, what they believed, and their languages. One day I found my way to a small enclave of Moors just outside of Cadiz. As I was sitting by the well listening to the women talking, an old man sat next to me and started speaking to me in French. His name was Hasam and was the leader of this group of Muslims, a very much diminished people since most of the Moors had been driven from Spain along with the Jews over the course of the last few hundred years. I spent the next four days with him and learned much of his religion and the history of his people. I also learned their language; in fact I have a God given talent when it comes to languages. I can speak Arabic, Spanish, German, Latin, Huron, Mohawk and of course French and English. I do not say this as a boast; it is just the way of things. Some men are born warriors, some are born to be kings, I was born to not just learn but to absorb.’
‘Naturally I was raised as a Catholic and was as devout to The Church as any 13 year old boy could be, I must admit, however, that when sitting around the various village wells I wasn’t just listening to the women talk if you know what I mean,’ he said with a mischievous wink of an eye and a sly smirk, ‘so to learn another’s view on God was an eye opening experience. Hasam told me too of the Jewish religion and after pondering over these thoughts through the years it still astounds me that the God of the Catholics, the God of the Muslims and the God of the Jews are the same God and yet through blindness and a lust for power these religions claim God as their own to the utter damnation of the souls of unbelievers.’
Pierre paused in his telling to take a sip or two of his ale. For a few moments he was silent as he just seemed to stare off into nothing. Finally with a shake of his head and another sip of ale he resumed his tale. ‘You must forgive me if I drift off now and then. Telling my tale brings back memories and I like to savor them while they last. As I was saying, I had learned quite a bit from Hasam and that has stayed with me. Still and despite my doubts on the nature of God, when the time came for me to decide on my future I chose to become a Jesuit monk, a Black Robe as we came to be known. I was eventually ordered to join the already established mission with the Mohawk. My superiors saw this as a just reward for my somewhat lax attention to the daily rituals. They were more than happy with my ability to translate and copy text but finally came to the conclusion that I would be better off somewhere else. The priest in charge of the mission, Father Colon, didn’t have too much time to keep track of a wayward monk as he was trying to keep the Mohawk tribe from splitting up. Seems that the godly Black Robes had been successful in the converting of many to Christianity but they took that success too far by constantly haranguing those that refused to believe with the promise of hell awaiting them. I did not want to get caught up in that rancorous dispute so I spent much of my time learning the language and talking to the older Mohawks about their spiritual beliefs. My fellow Black Robes were not unaware of my unorthodox ecclesiastical thoughts as I often engaged them in debate. A couple of them became so enraged at my attitude they began to spy on me looking for a way to renounce me to Father Colon.’
At this point Abigail appeared from the cabin and announced that the stew was ready so with a promise that Pierre would continue his story later they headed to a meal of fresh venison and a bean stew. At this beckoning call the six men rose from the logs they were using for seats and headed to the cabin. ‘Henry,’ said his father Joseph, ‘Bring along that jug. Eating and talking are thirsty work.’ ‘Right, Pa.’ Henry answered. Like his father, Henry was tall and wiry and both were endowed with an adventurous spirit. When Joseph’s wife Martha died, he gave up on the farm and became the village ‘jack-of-all-trades’; part time blacksmith, part time miller and part time butcher. Henry was following in his father’s footsteps though he spent as much time as he could roaming the countryside with Liam, hunting or gathering specimens for Pierre. As he grabbed the jug he said to Liam, ‘Pierre sure has led an interestin’ life. I hope I get to have some adventures. Not likely to happen while living here though.’ ‘That’s for sure,’ replied Liam, ‘The more I listen to Pierre the more I wanna get away from here. He’s never told me much about his past, only that he was asked to leave the Jesuits. I think tonight we may hear the whole of it.’
‘I swear Liam, this is the best venison I have ever eaten.’ said Thomas as he sliced off another hunk. ‘That raises a question in my mind. I wonder if the deer taste this good further west. Now the reason for this question is because I received a letter a few days ago from William Trent. When he was with us last year he hinted at needing a partner for his trading post out by Fort Duquesne, well he has asked me to be that partner and after mulling it over I’ve decided it is time for us to move west to the frontier. I know it will be hard and I know there will be dangers but I also know that I cannot remain a farmer forever. We have enough saved to pay off the landlord and to procure what we need for the move.’
Abigail was a strong woman not only physically but mentally as well. She knew that no amount of argument was going to dissuade her husband from this course. She was actually surprised that it took so long for something like this to happen. The clues, subtle as they were, to Thomas’ longing had been evident for quite some time. One of the ways she saw through his dream was in the way he handled their sons. Daniel was the oldest, and at nineteen years of age was more attuned to the land, more of a farmer than his father. Daniel never faltered in his duties around the farm, indeed he took on more than his share of the toil. Liam on the other hand was never much help other than to feed the livestock or to help with the harvest. Abigail would often complain to Thomas about Liam and his lack of help and Thomas would chide Liam and for a few days he would pitch in more vigorously but only for a few days. Thomas, being of much the same mind as Liam would often feel a little envious of Liam and his freedom to explore. ‘Well, husband, I do not know why it took you so long to arrive at this decision. I have known ever since William filled your head with dreams of a better life, one that doesn’t involve tilling the soil.’ At this little jab everyone chuckled.
‘Have you had any news from Trent regarding the French and their Indian allies?’ asked Pierre. ‘They can’t be expected to just let an English trading post thrive in their territory.’
‘He did write that things were certainly in some turmoil between the English and French but he has found a spot on one of the feeder creeks to the Allegheny that is well secluded and defensible. He plans on keeping things slow trading wise until the situation improves but he is sure that it will. I get the sense from him that he knows more than he is letting on regarding the future of the area. So, yes there will be an element of danger involved but so far, the French have left him alone.’ Thomas put down his fork and gazed at the faces of his family and friends. Liam was smiling from ear to ear; Daniel on the other hand seemed a bit more apprehensive. Joseph glanced at his son Henry, raised his eyebrow, shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘The boy and me have nothing keeping us here, might you want a little company on this venture?’ ‘I was about to put it to you,’ replied Thomas, ‘I would welcome most keenly your company and your help. What about you, Pierre? Is there anything or anyone keeping you here or would you be willing to join this crew?’
‘Perhaps it would be best if I finished my tale before I answer. You may not want me along after hearing the rest of the story.’ replied Pierre with a sly grin on his face. ‘One thing you must understand. I did not join The Church or The Jesuits in order to serve God. No, I did it as it was the best way to get an education, to learn and to think. This may help to explain my disinterest in the rituals and vows required of me. I did enough to keep from being thrown out but was always being watched and judged.
As I said earlier, I was being spied on so I began to exercise caution. Took more responsibility for the daily tasks laid before me even to the point of saying Mass on occasion. This went on for a couple months and then some visitors arrived from the Oneida. One of their important warriors, Mendoah had come to talk to the Mohawk chief Donehogawa about recent incursions into the Oneida’s territory by a band of Shawnee led by a ruthless brave, Chogan. With Mendoah, was his daughter, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Her name was Suitana and she had come along in order to spend time with a Mohawk woman gifted in healing. That is how I came to know Suitana as I too was a student of Onatah. During our time with Onatah we took many walks in the woods and fields gathering plants, goose down and whatever else Onatah said were good medicine. Upon occasion our hands would touch as we reached for the same plant or bit of bark and each time we would let our hands linger together a little longer until we were both sure that we each desired the other. I have said that my vows were not the most important thing to me especially the vow of chastity. Indeed I was not the first Black Robe to run afoul of that prohibition including the two priests that were intent on destroying me. Mendoah, along with my best friend among the Mohawk, Donehogawa and a handful of Mohawk braves left the village to deal with the Shawnee. It was then that my Jesuit brothers struck. Suitana and I would meet at a beautiful spot on Schoharie Creek; a place canopied by elm trees and under the flowing leaves of willows for our love making. Usually we were careful not to be followed but on this day I was expected to say Mass though I had not been advised of that. When one of the other priests saw me heading away from the village he followed me. When he saw our intentions he raced back to the village and told Father Colon. When the good Father and my Brothers arrived I was asleep in Suitana’s arms.
I am always shocked when whites bitterly complain about the savagery of the Indians when after all we whites are just as cruel if not more. I was beaten with club, fist and booted feet to the cries of “blasphemer, spawn of Satan, fornicator.” I was dragged from that lovely spot unconscious into the creek and left for dead. Suitana they dare not touch out of fear and rightly so. Mendoah would have killed them without hesitation if they had. As for me, I was now an outcast, for as you can readily tell I did not die that day. When Suitana returned to the village she told Onatah that I was near death. Onatah gathered up her medicine pouch, made her way to the creek where I was still breathing but barely. She was able to pull me from the water where she then began tending my many wounds. I was unable to move from that spot for two weeks. When I was finally strong enough I said a tearful goodbye to Suitana and Onatah, gathered up the supplies they brought to me and headed away from the village to where I did not know. I worked my way south stopping at the few farms and villages I encountered to work for food and a place to stay until I was ready to move on. I arrived in Rivertown and when I learned that the village needed a doctor decided to stay to render what help I could. I am, however, ready to move on and will join you if you will have me.’
With that said Thomas took one last gulp of his ale, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and said, ‘That settles it then. I think you’ll all agree that the time to leave will be in the spring. We can use the coming winter to prepare. We need to stock up, hell, we need to bring practically everything we’re gonna need out there. Let’s go back outside and enjoy a relaxing evening; one last time before we get too busy.’
They all did as Thomas suggested and soon the sounds of laughter and light hearted banter filled the night and no one noticed, at least not outwardly, that Liza and Henry had snuck off to the other side of the cabin. When she was sure they were out of sight Liza grabbed Henry and pulled him to her and kissed him softly, ‘When are you going to marry me Henry?’ she said when their lips finally parted. ‘In two years Liza, you know your Pa said you couldn’t marry until you turn seventeen,’ replied Henry as he stroked her hair and gazed longingly into her eyes, ‘This is hard on me too you know but now at least we’ll be together more often. We better get back to the others before they start talking about us.’ ‘Oh my handsome Henry,’ Liza replied with a big grin, ‘they’ve been talking about us for years.’