PATRIOTS ARE BORN An original short story by John Conway
In Part One of our story, we were introduced to young brothers Andrew and Morgan Worth, timber rafters who lived along the Delaware River. It was May of 1775, and they were preparing to take a raft of timber to Philadelphia when they were paid a late night visit by Alexander McDougall, a New York State politician, who asks them for a ride to Philadelphia on their raft. Revealing himself to be a long time seaman, he offers to pay for the ride and to help with the raft. He also reveals that there are men pursuing him. We now pick up the story…
I could see right away that Morgan was not happy with my decision to allow McDougall to hitch a ride downriver on our raft, and I knew my little brother was not one to hold his tongue for very long when he had something to say.
“Look, Andrew, we’ve got a tough trip ahead of us,” he finally said. “Do you really want to be responsible for someone who’s never been on a raft before? And besides, he just told us he is being chased by someone, and he hasn’t really said why. Does this mean they are going to be chasing us? I don’t think we need that kind of trouble.”
I wanted to tell Morgan that we could really use the money, since we had no idea when we might be able to take another raft downriver, but McDougall piped up before I could formulate an answer.
“You don’t want trouble?” he said loudly. “Then you’d better leave this continent, because what is happening now is going to be more trouble than you can possibly imagine, and for a long, long time.”
“How about letting us in on just what it is that you’re talking about?” Morgan retorted, clearly not backing down.
“Calm down, Morgan.” I interjected, but McDougall was quick with an answer.
“As I told you, fighting has already started in Massachusetts, at Lexington and Concord, and it is likely to get much worse before it gets better. Congress will be assembling in Philadelphia in a few days, and I intend to be there to urge our New York representatives to push for total independence.”
“Independence from England?” Morgan asked. “Are you serious?”
“Have you ever heard of the Sons of Liberty?” McDougall asked.
In our travels to Philadelphia over the past few years, we had heard of the agitators for separation from England who called themselves the Sons of Liberty, had heard Charles Thomson speak to small gatherings in the city, and had even met some of the men who were members, but I wasn’t sure we should admit that to McDougall. But as usual, Morgan was much less cautious.
“Of course we’ve heard of them,” he said. “We even know some.”
I found myself shaking my head, almost imperceptibly, as much for my own benefit as for Morgan’s, and I wasn’t sure he even noticed.
“I’m going to trust you, and admit that I was one of the organizers in New York City, where it is a fairly unpopular group,” McDougall said.
“Is that why people are chasing you?’
“Yes,” McDougall confided. “There are men who would do almost anything to keep me from reaching Philadelphia. As I told you, they almost caught me several miles back, but I was able to elude them by sliding down a steep embankment to a rushing creek below. I’m telling you this because if you allow me to ride down river on your raft, you could be in danger, too.”
“We cut and raft timber for a living,” Morgan said defiantly. “We don’t back down from danger.”
He looked at me for the first time during the discussion, apparently seeking my agreement.
“Like I said before, McDougall. If you can pay, you can ride. Getting the raft to Philadelphia is always a challenge, I don’t think whoever is following you will be too much trouble.”
“I admire your spirit,” McDougall said, addressing both of us. “We need more good men like you to join our cause.”
“We didn’t say anything about joining any cause,” I advised. “We’re not choosing up sides, we’re just giving you a ride.”
“And you’re paying us for it,” Morgan added.
“True enough,” McDougall said, smiling. “But remember, I was told about you boys by some of your neighbors. From what I have heard, you are not Loyalists. That’s one of the reasons I am here.”
“Truth is, we are not much of anything,” I said. “We like living our lives on our own terms, without anyone telling us what we have to do. But we’ve spent enough time in Philadelphia the past few years to know very well what’s going on there.”
I saw Morgan suppress a yawn, and realized how late it was. We had plans to be on the river as soon as dawn broke in the morning, and we needed to be at our best, so I suggested we all get some sleep.
“Do you think one of us should stand guard?” Morgan asked. “I mean, if people are after him, they might pay us a visit.”
“That’s probably not a bad idea,” McDougall said. “I could take the first watch.”
“No, I will,” Morgan said emphatically, hoisting his musket. “You get some sleep; dawn will be here before you know it.”
I noticed that Boson decided to keep Morgan company while he acted as sentry, and I tried to fall asleep, but thoughts of the trip and what we might be getting ourselves into by offering to help McDougall kept me awake. Eventually, I began mentally checking off things we typically did before heading downriver, such as packing food into our buckets, drawing fresh water from the well, shuttering the house, and soon I was sleeping, although fitfully.
It seemed as if I had been sleeping for just a few minutes when Morgan shook me awake.
“It’s your turn to keep watch, brother,” he said wearily.
And so I did.
Rafting timber to Philadelphia was the first great industry in the upper Delaware region, beginning in 1764, but because of the mounting tensions and open hostilities, it largely ceased when the Revolutionary War broke out. Our fictional brothers, Andrew and Morgan Worth, along with their big black dog, Boson, and a passenger, real life historical figure Alexander McDougall, launch their raft for Philadelphia in the next chapter of Patriots Are Born. Don’t miss it in the September edition of The Hurleyville Sentinel.