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, have taken 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. Ambushed by a group of men who are trying to arrest McDougall as a traitor, the group has just been saved by the appearance of two Native Americans, Ben Shanks and Canope. We rejoin them now as they resume their raft trip…
We decided not to spend the night on land, and instead said goodbye to Ben Shanks and Canope and, in the dark, put the raft back in the water. With Boson’s help we pulled it back out into the eddy and got it moving again, very slowly at first, and then, as we gradually moved beyond the stillness of the eddy, picking up speed.
We decided that one of us at a time would get some sleep while the other two manned the fore and aft oars. We fastened two of our lanterns to the front of the raft to provide us with a little visibility, and tried to keep the raft under control.
While it was obvious that McDougall had never been on a timber raft before, he learned quickly, and it was easy to see that he had once been a seaman. He was also a fascinating storyteller, and while Morgan slept, he kept me entertained with a steady flow of narratives about his time as a commander of small vessels in the French and Indian War, and more recently as the owner of his own merchant ship, the Schuyler.
He talked of the fascinating episode of his life when he had been jailed by the Royal Governor of New York for publishing critical articles about the government in his newspaper.
McDougall had made the most of his time in prison, and had become somewhat of a celebrity while serving his time, actually entertaining guests—dozens at a time– and making his case whenever possible for freedom for the colonies. He refused to renounce his views on the abuses of power of the British government, and was only released from prison when the Royal Governor who had ordered him jailed had been replaced.
He was a persuasive speaker, and by the time we had reached Philadelphia three days later, both Morgan and I had become quite taken with him, and furthermore, we both began to look forward to hearing him expound on his political views, particularly his notion about freedom and why independence from England was so important. His arguments seemed sound to us.
He told us that our taking timber to Philadelphia was critical to the fight for independence.
“Make no mistake about it, we are already at war with England,” he told us. “And it is going to be a long struggle. If we are to stand a chance in that struggle we need a well-trained fleet of ships as well as an army. And Philadelphia is where those ships must be built!”
He told us we were both patriots, whether we intended to be or not.
“Like it or not, you have joined in the fight,” he said, and Morgan and I quietly agreed that we were beginning to like it.
When we arrived in Philadelphia, McDougall insisted upon paying us for the trip. After we had delivered the timber to the ship yard and secured our payment, he accompanied us to a nearby tavern to procure some food and drink before we began the journey home, much of which would be on foot.
Once inside the tavern he was gregarious, and before long was holding court, talking of independence and of the atrocities the King and Parliament had been perpetrating upon the colonies. He found a willing audience, and the crowd in the tavern cheered his every word. At one point, he introduced Morgan and I to the crowd.
“These two fine young men have already made an immeasurable contribution to the fight,’ he said. “In many ways they remind me of a young man I met a couple of years ago from whom I think you will be hearing much in the years to come. His name is Alexander Hamilton, and like these two men he is extremely bright and committed to the struggle.”
McDougall paid for our food and drink, and when he saw that we were preparing to leave, he excused himself from the group with which he had been conversing, and walked over to us.
“The way I understand it, you boys generally walk back to your home, is that right?” he asked, and we nodded. “I would like to make you a proposition, then. I will put you up for tonight in the finest hotel, taking care of every expense, if only you will agree to hand these out and to talk up the cause of independence every chance you get on the return trip.” He handed me a stack of printed cards.
“Well, thank you, but we couldn’t possibly stay in a hotel,” Morgan said, catching a glimpse of the cards.
“Nonsense!” McDougall said emphatically. “I owe you two my life. It is the least I can do.”
“I meant because we have Boson,” Morgan added. “What would we do with him? Probably best if we just started back so we can get out of the city and set up camp before dark.”
“I’ll hear of nothing of the sort!” McDougall insisted. “I know most of the good hotels in this city, and I will find you one where Boson is welcome. That’s a promise.”
“If you can deliver on that promise, we’ll take your offer and we will shout the call for independence from the rooftops,” I said. “We’ll make sure everyone has one of your cards from here to Cushetunk!”
And so Morgan and I and our big black dog spent the night in one of the city’s finest hotels, compliments of Alexander McDougall. He even met us the following morning for breakfast.
“I have a busy day today, trying to convince the New York delegates to get behind independence,” he told us. “I fear it is going to be a hard sell, but eventually I am sure they will see the light.”
“if anyone can convince them of the wisdom of declaring independence it is you, Alexander,” Morgan told him as we parted company. “Just tell them what you told us during the trip, and remember to add the final argument, it is sure to work.”
“The final argument?” he asked.
“When all else fails, just tell them to ‘Join us, or die!’”
That concludes our story, “Patriots Are Born.” Although Andrew and Morgan Worth are fictional characters, several of those featured in the story—Alexander McDougall, Ben Shanks, Canope, and Robert Land—were actual historical figures. Watch for another exciting piece of serialized fiction in the next edition of The Hurleyville Sentinel.