PATRIOTS ARE BORN
An original short story by John Conway
It is May of 1775, and our young brothers, Andrew and Morgan Worth, their big black dog, Boson, and a passenger, wealthy statesman Alexander McDougall, are set to take a raft of timber down the Delaware River to Philadelphia, where McDougall is hoping to persuade New York’s representatives to the Continental Congress to vote in favor of independence. He has warned the brothers that there are men trying to stop him, but undeterred, they are about to embark on the trip…
Shortly before sunrise the next morning Morgan and I dragged the raft into the river and tied it fast to the sturdy tree we always used for mooring. McDougall had offered to carry the provisions from the cabin to the raft and Boson, as usual, was keeping a close eye on all that was going on around him.
Once everything was tied down on the raft, Morgan checked to make sure the fire was cold in the fireplace and all the candles were extinguished, while I fastened the large oars fore and aft and untied the rope. McDougall and Boson were already on board, and I carried the end of the rope through the shallow water and climbed on while Morgan came running along the river bank at top speed and leaped on just as we got into the current. Off we went on our way to Philadelphia.
It wasn’t until we were underway that I noticed that Boson had been totally focused on a spot on the far end of our clearing, not barking, but growling lowly, his eyes riveted on the dense brush marking the edge of the clearing. Asking McDougall to take over the front oar for a minute, I made my way back to Boson, who had affixed himself to the rear of the raft just to the left of where Morgan was manning the aft oar.
“What’s the matter, boy?” I asked, kneeling beside him. “What do you see?”
He continued growling, and then let out a series of loud barks. I followed his eyes to the clearing and then I saw it: Three men, armed, running from the brush toward our raft. Boson was convinced they were not friendly, and that was confirmed when one of the men stopped, took aim, and fired his musket in our direction.
By this time, both Morgan and McDougall had spotted the men, and Morgan had reacted by working his oar to steer the raft sideways into the stronger current closer to the west shoreline. McDougall followed suit at the front of the raft, and let us know that the three were the same men who had pursued him the day before. Obviously, they had every intention of preventing him from getting to Philadelphia.
“You certainly have done something to make them angry,” Morgan yelled above the roar of the current as he worked the oar in order to straighten the raft. “I don’t think we’ve ever been shot at before.”
The current propelled the raft faster and faster, and the men gradually fell behind, and we were soon out of sight.
“I think we lost them,” Morgan finally said.
“I don’t expect they will be giving up,” McDougall said. “They’ll do whatever they can to stop me from getting to Philadelphia.”
“We will have a pretty good head start,” I interjected. “The current is swift through here for another mile or so before we hit an eddy, so they’ll be a while catching up.”
When we reached the first eddy—that’s the part of the river where the current actually turns back on itself, creating a very slow whirlpool effect that gives the appearance of being perfectly still—we stayed close to the west bank of the river in order to keep the raft moving. We made it through without incident and picked up speed again, all the while remaining alert to our surroundings. There was no sign of our pursuers.
Shortly after midday, still hugging the west bank of the river, we reached another eddy, which would normally be the place we’d stop and eat. After a brief discussion, we all agreed to forego the stop and to keep the raft moving. Boson wasn’t happy, and let his displeasure be known with a barking spree, but Morgan tossed him a chicken leg and he quickly became preoccupied with that.
I think both Morgan and I were surprised at how well McDougall handled himself on the raft, and we soon felt comfortable with him taking a shift manning one of the oars. It was a big help having the extra hand on board.
As dusk approached, we decided to pass through the next eddy—which typically would have been our stopping point for the night, and to try to keep going as late into the night as we could. As fate would have it, the moon was bright that night and we were able to continue downriver without much trouble.
As the night wore on, McDougall approached me at one point and said he had an idea.
“Assuming they are still pursuing us, chances are they are expecting us to pull off at one of the eddies,’ he said. “I propose that if we do pull over for the night we try to do so in a spot other than an eddy. Do you think we can manage that?”
I told McDougall how difficult that might be, but agreed it might be the safest option. He actually volunteered to get in the water when we were ready and take a rope to shore to try to pull the raft over to the bank and secure it. It wasn’t an easy task, but about an hour later, we decided the time had come, and we steered the raft to shore. With McDougall’s help, we secured it and scrambled up the steep embankment to a grassy area where we stretched out, exhausted.
We agreed that it would be imprudent to start a fire, so Morgan broke out the provisions, and we all ate a cold meal in silence. Afterward, as the three of us were sprawled on the ground talking about the relative merits of declaring independence from England, Boson sprang to his feet and began barking at the darkness.
We sprang to our feet almost in unison, and watched as perhaps a dozen men advanced toward us on all sides.
“You’ll do well to remain still and not make any sudden movements,” one of the men said as he walked toward us. “You’re surrounded.”
It appears as if the journey downriver to Philadelphia with their passenger will be even more difficult than either Andrew or Morgan envisioned. Find out their fate when “Patriots Are Born” continues in the next edition of The Hurleyville Sentinel.