PATRIOTS ARE BORN
An Original Story by John Conway
In honor of Independence Day, we present an original story from the Upper Delaware River valley region that later became Sullivan County. This region was first settled in the mid-18th century and as the Revolutionary War approached, those settlers—like most on the continent– were forced to choose up sides. This is a fictional story about two of them.
My name is Andrew Worth and my younger brother Morgan and I live along the Delaware River in New York. We are the last surviving children of Joseph and Rebecca Worth, who moved here from Preston, Connecticut in 1755. I was just a small child then, and Morgan wasn’t born until a few years later. We’ve been living here ever since, at first with our parents and two sisters. It’s been a hard life, and we suffered many hardships as our father, then one of our sisters and then the other, and finally our mother all passed away.
It was early May of 1775, and Morgan and I had just finished lashing together a large timber raft to float downriver to Philadelphia the next morning. The raft was made up of ten of the finest pine trees you’d ever see, each one about sixty feet in length, stout and straight. That’s been our business for a few years now, rafting the timber down to the ship builders in Philadelphia, where they are used as masts on the great sailing ships. The trip takes a few days, depending on the flow of the river, and we have been getting five Pounds per mast, a bit more than the going rate because our timber is the best on the market.
It had been dark for about an hour and we had just turned in for the night when I heard Boson, our big black dog, barking. It wasn’t particularly unusual for him to bark at night with all the deer and other animals around, but this barking was different, and I finally decided I needed to get up and look around. Morgan heard me get up, and grabbed his musket and joined me.
As soon as I opened the door, Boson bolted out, then stopped suddenly and began barking even more urgently. By the faint light of the moon, I could just make out some kind of shape on the ground where he stood, and I hurried over. It was a man.
I turned him over, and could tell right away from his clothing that he was a man of means. I could not make out any details, but that was obvious just from what I could see. He was breathing, but shallowly, and Morgan and I picked him up and got him into the house. Morgan spread a blanket out in front of the hearth, and stoked the fire to get it started again. I tried to lower the man to the blanket as gently as I could.
As the fire began to build, Morgan lit a couple of candles and I got a better look at the man. He looked to be about forty years old, and his clothes were finer than any I had ever seen, but they were tattered in places. We checked him over quickly and found no signs of bleeding, so I removed his hat and put a cold cloth on his forehead. It wasn’t long before he began to stir, and within minutes he was sitting up. Morgan offered him some water.
“Where am I?” he asked as soon as he had swallowed.
“You’re in Cushetunk,” Morgan answered. “Who are you and what happened to you?”
“My name is McDougall,” he said slowly. “Who are you?”
“We live here,” I said cautiously. “I’m Andrew, and this is my brother, Morgan.”
The man was silent for a moment, and seemed to be taking in his surroundings. Then he fixed his gaze first on Morgan and then on me. It made me uncomfortable. Finally, I spoke.
“Might I ask how you happened to be collapsed in front of our house, out here in the middle of nowhere, dressed like that?”
The man took a deep breath before speaking.
“Obviously I don’t know you boys, but it appears I have no choice but to trust you. I live in New York, but I own property in Albany County, and I was there inspecting it when word reached me that I was needed in Philadelphia. I was on my way there—it is urgent that I get there in the next few days—and I was ambushed just east of here several miles. There are men pursuing me, that is why I didn’t simply travel down the Hudson back home and from there to Philadelphia, so I had to cover a lot of ground fast, and some of it was rough country. I thought if I could get to the Delaware, I would be all right.”
“Men after you? Why?” Morgan asked.
“Do either of you have any idea what is going on in Boston right now?”
Morgan and I looked at each other. We made a two or three trips to Philadelphia each year, and had just returned from one. Other raftsmen had told us they wouldn’t be making any more trips for a while because the tension between Massachusetts and England had already reached the point of a shooting war in Lexington and Concord and it was becoming too dangerous to be on the river, even this far west.
“No,” I answered before Morgan could, deciding not to reveal too much right then.
“I am on my way to Philadelphia for the Continental Congress,” McDougall said. “There is considerable talk of independence, of breaking away from England completely. New York’s representatives are not necessarily supportive of that notion, and I am going there to try to convince them.”
“Hold on a second,” Morgan blurted out. “You’re on your way to Philadelphia, and you just happened to end up here, where we’re fixing to take our raft downriver tomorrow? That’s quite a coincidence!”
“No, it’s not,” McDougall said. “I came upon some men in their fields this morning. They offered me some cornbread to eat and a swallow of pumpkin ale. We talked for short while, and they told me about you boys. They said you were the only ones still rafting timber on the river, that everyone else had given up because it had become too dangerous. They directed me here.”
“So you’d like to hitch a ride?” I asked.
“I will certainly be willing to pay you,” he said. “And I can help you with the raft.”
“You’re going to help us with the raft?” Morgan said, eyeing the man’s fine, though tattered, clothes.
“I’ll have you know, I spent many years at sea, and worked on many different kinds of ships” he said indignantly.
“Well, the river ain’t no sea, and the raft ain’t no ship,” Morgan said.
“If you can pay, you can ride,” I finally said. “Looks like we’ve got ourselves a passenger.”
Read the next chapter in our story in next month’s edition. Alexander McDougall was an actual figure in New York State history and one of the state’s representative to the Continental Congress. The characters of Andrew and Morgan Worth are fictitious, as are the events depicted in the story.