Author's note: The writing of this tale came as a direct result of reading Simon Schama's harrowing account of the Black Loyalist Regiments in the American Revolution and the consequent movement in England to abolish slavery spearheaded by Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, Granville Sharpe and others. The book is called Rough Crossings and I highly recommend it, though it is brutal in its honesty. The idea of the American patriots fighting for their independence and freedom - for all men to be free - while still holding a major portion of the population in bondage is one we find hard to comprehend in the 21st century. At the time of the American Revolution, it was an accepted fact of life for most. There were men who fought against injustice and the absurdity of the notion, but their voices were drowned out by the needs of the southern (and some northern) economies. Many men, like George Washington, considered it more important to accomplish the goals of the Revolution first, and then deal with all of that later. In England, just before 1776, a case was brought for a slave named James Somerset that began to change everything regarding slavery or what they then called 'the accursed thing'. While, in ruling on the case, Lord Mansfield did not free England's slaves, his words of judgement were taken by the populace at large to mean that any slave - foreign owned - who set foot on England's soil was free. That same year, Lord Dunmore had a plan - what if the blacks could be made to fight for the King against those Americans who held them in bondage....
The Accursed Thing is a sequel to my earlier fan fiction
Sins of the Father.
In writing this story, it was necessary to use dialects representing different nations of Blacks - those from the south and the West Indies mostly. No disparagement is meant by the way they speak.
As usual, the characters created for the Daniel Boone TV show belong to Fess Parker and his kind and obliging attorneys who allow us to use them for our own continued enjoyment in this wonderful thing called 'fan fiction'. No copyright infringement is intended by their use. All other characters are my own .
This story is rated PG-13 for moderate violence and brutality and suggested adult situations, though there is nothing graphic or sexual in its content.
That said, I hope you enjoy - and maybe learn a bit as I did.
The Accursed Thing
The old man stood outside the Indian lodge. He scowled at the small brown children running naked about him and moved to strike away the hand of one that reached for the gilded braid on the end of his crimson sleeve. Then remembrance softened him, and instead he placed his hand on the boy’s black head. A rueful smile tickled the end of his lips, reawakening the joy he had once known in this place. A joy that was not to be. One that burned incandescent and was extinguished all too soon in death.
The boy was staring at him. The look out of his eyes was a familiar one to the man who, this day, in this place, felt ancient as the great sprawling oaks that surrounded the Cherokee village of Chota. As if reading his mind, the child lifted a filthy brown hand and held it out.
Greed. It was universal. The thirst for it drove men to greatness, and to the grave.
Reaching into his pocket, the old man searched for something to offer. When his hand emerged it held a round shining King George Crown. The boy snatched at it, but he was quicker. Shaking his head, he said, “No. Nothing is free, my fine young lad. You must do something for me to earn it.” When the child said nothing he added, “Do you understand?”
A second small urchin, such as he was used to seeing in the streets of London, approached at his word. This boy was as thin as the other was thick. His skin was a light tan, suggesting superior blood. His hair was black, but the highlights were blue as the summer sky in Stirlingshire, not the deep copper of this confounded colony’s earth as were his companion’s. About his neck he wore a thong with a battered shell. The old man watched him as his eyes went to the coin.
“He doesn’t understand you,” the boy said at last. “But I do.”
“And who might you be, my lad?”
The old man thought a moment. “Walks Through? ‘Walks through’ what?”
The boy’s dark eyes shot to his companion. The first boy, the full-blood, was laughing.
“Oh, I see.” He straightened up and saluted. “I admire a man who is a survivor. And I reward them as well.” He held the coin out to the second boy. “Do this for me and you shall have it.”
The boy’s look was wary. “What is it you want?”
The old man knelt so he was on a level with the boy. He placed a hand on his shoulder. Then, with his other hand, he pointed. “You see that lodge over there?”
Walks Through looked. He nodded.
The lodge was a large one and obviously belonged to someone of import. “I need to know if someone is in there. If they are here. If you can tell me, the coin is yours.”
The boy’s face fell. “No one is in there.”
“No?” The old man rose and took a step toward it. “It is Menewa’s, is it not?”
Walks Through nodded again. “But Menewa is not there.”
Trying to sound casual, the man in the crimson coat asked, “And Cara-Mingo? Is he not within?”
The child shook his head this time. “They hunt.” He turned and pointed. “There. By the river.”
Disappointment caught in his throat, and then he released it in a sigh. “I see. Well, there is nothing for it then. During my time in the colonies I have seen about as much backwater wilderness as I care to see, but I suppose a mile or two more won’t hurt me, and,” he patted his waist where the buttons of his uniform coat strained to break free, “it might even aid me in my quest to fit this damn waistcoat!” With a nod, the old man started to move off in the direction the boy had indicated. After he had taken a few steps he turned back. The boy was standing with his head down, looking sadly disappointed.
“Walks Through!” he called sharply.
The boy’s head came up.
“Here.” He flipped the coin and watched the boy jump into the air with the ease of a young buck to catch it. Then, as the boy landed, he added, “There’s another one in it for you if you will be my guide.”
The boy with the muddied red complexion was staring, disbelieving. Walks Through beamed. He opened the small leather pouch he wore about his waist and dropped the gold sovereign into it and then ran to catch up.
The old man smiled at him, but when he began to walk, the boy hesitated.
“What’s wrong, lad?” he asked.
“How do I know you do not mean them harm?” he asked. “Does Menewa know you?”
The old man hesitated. He followed the boy’s eyes to the place where they rested, once again on his enticing golden braid. “It’s the coat, isn’t it?” he asked.
“You are Yo-ne-ga.”
“Well, actually I am not English, I’m Scottish – though I seldom claim it.” He smiled and reached out to touch the boy’s shoulder again. “It’s quite all right, lad. Menewa and I are of old acquaintance.”
“And Cara-Mingo?” Walks Through asked.
The old man could not help a second sigh. “Once, long ago, he was my son.”
He could hear the other men, laughing in the distance as they chased after their kill. The deer had been a great one with many points. It would supply much food for the people in the coming winter. He should have been with them.
But it was not in his heart to kill today.
Mingo stood near the river’s edge, thinking. There was too much death this day. All around him. In the leaves, the grass, even in the sky. Even though the day was blessed with a balm of warm air, a breath taken in August or early September perhaps and not exhaled until now, it was bitter. The earth was barren. The grasses crisp. What leaves still clung to the trees rattled with a death gasp as they gave up their tenuous hold and fluttered on brown bat wings to the ground. He pulled his heavy coat close about his throat as he shivered.
And not with the cold.
Before him the waters of the Long Man ran, singing their eternal song, reminding him that in his mother’s world death was not an end, but a beginning. He did not fear death. Perhaps that was what made him take chances other men would not take. What made him, as Daniel would say, reckless. No, he did not fear death for himself. But the fear today was not for himself, it was for another. And he did not know who.
A sadness had overtaken him the moment they left for the hunt. He had tried his best to keep with the others, but something close to despair had slowed his feet until his moccasins might as well have been filled with lead. Menewa had noticed and, with a fatherly understanding, told him to go where his path led him.
It had led him here, to this place, to the waters of the river, to the cold unfeeling rocks, to the brown grass as barren as his heart.
Not knowing what else to do, Mingo knelt in the grass and raised his hands in supplication to the Creator. Closing his eyes, he listened, desirous of an answer. When none seemed to come, he called again, this time lifting his rich voice in a plaintive song that fell upon the water and was carried away with it, back toward his home.
Kneeling still, hands raised and eyes closed, Mingo knew – suddenly – that he was not alone. His body tensed but he did not move, uncertain for the moment whether it was man or beast.
In the end it proved to be neither.
“Cara-Mingo? It is Walks Through,” the young boy called.
He was new to the village. His father was white. His mother, Cherokee. In Walks Through Mingo had seen himself. He was trying to befriend the boy, though he had proved wary and difficult to win over. Both of his parents had died, and Walks Through had managed to live off the land by himself for nearly a year before Menewa found him. He could be no more than six.
He had been given his name because he survived.
“Here. I am here,” he called as the boy appeared. Then, behind him, he saw a flash of red. As he realized the boy was not alone, Mingo’s hand fell to his belt where he kept his knife. Foolishly he had left his gun propped on a rock a few yards away.
“There’s no need for that,” a man’s voice proclaimed, even as a tall figure wearing a British Army dress uniform coat stepped out of the shifting foliage. “Unless you mean to run me through just for old time’s sake.”
Mingo froze. For a second he entertained the irrational thought that he would have preferred it be a rabid grizzly. Sheathing his knife, he offered with a sigh,” What brings you here, Lord Dunsmore?”
The older man did not mistake the formal greeting. He ignored it. “I came to see you, my son.”
Mingo nodded toward Walks Through. “Were you too afraid to make the journey by yourself?”
Dunsmore laid his hand on the boy’s head. “This lad has potential. Much as another one I knew, long ago.”
“Ah, potential. Grounds for expectation of success.”
“With a haircut and a dozen baths or so, he would make an excellent attendant.”
“An excellent slave, you mean,” Mingo growled.
“There’s that word. Curious you should use it.” His father reached into the pocket of his coat and drew out a gold coin. Handing it to Walks Through, he said,” You have performed your duty admirably. This additional reward is yours. See that you do not waste it on idle things.”
The boy grinned from ear to ear. Then he straightened up and saluted smartly before turning and dashing into the trees.
“I believe they have a name for that,” Mingo muttered as he headed for his gun. “Corrupting a minor.”
“The boy and I had time to talk as we journeyed,” his father said, coming to his side and then passing him to stand by the water. “Smart lad. Sharp mind. Wasted here, of course.”
“Of course….” Mingo slung his bow over his shoulder and then tucked his rifle under his arm. “Why are you here? Surely it is not only to torment me.”
The older man did not move for the longest time. When he did, it was to slowly draw a letter out of his inner pocket. He unfolded it and perused the lines, saying nothing.
Mingo did not mind silence. He waited. Not so long as his Cherokee mother would have liked, but longer than his English father was comfortable with. Lord Dunsmore closed the letter and opened it again. His father glanced over his shoulder and then turned away.
“My son…” he began at last. “I have news.” He turned then and faced him, his posture that of a man facing a firing squad. “James may very well be dead.”
For a moment he didn’t know who his father meant. Then, in the stillness of the moment thunder struck, nearly driving him to his knees.
His father nodded. Then he stepped forward and offered him the letter.
Mingo’s hand trembled as he took it. He was fighting for control. On a cold November day, two years before, he had seen James off on a ship, watching him set sail for England to be reunited with his mother. Only slightly more than two years ago, he had not known he had a son. Had not known the short impetuous dalliance he had had with Catherine Saynsberry in his youth had resulted in a child. James had been dropped into his lap full grown, a young man of fourteen, when his mother thought she was dying. At first their relationship had been contentious, but by the time James had made the decision to go back to England, they had become father and son.
He couldn’t be dead.
The parchment shook in his hand. He closed his eyes and then opened them and focused on the handwriting that filled the page. It had been written in haste and parts of it were nearly illegible. It was obvious the author had some education by his choice of words, though they were used oddly, almost as if English was not his native tongue. It was addressed to His Eminence, the Governor General of the Virginia Territory, Lord Dunsmore, and read:
There is a God in Heaven and see you he does. What you have done he knows. The others, they know as well and they watch and find joy in what I do. You will pay for what you did. Your blood will pay and Heaven will know joy.
I have the boy. Do not bother to look for him. You will not find
him. He suffers in a place without light.
The redskin is next.
May God curse you as me he has cursed. I leave you to the Hell of living. It is what I know.
Mingo’s frown deepened the further into the letter he read. He resisted the urge to crush it in his fist and instead thrust it under his father’s nose. “What have you done?” he demanded.
His father stiffened. His hands had been locked behind his back. One came forward to shift the cravat tied about his throat. It was a familiar gesture of nervousness. One Mingo recognized.
“I have no idea what this is all about. Someone who served under me, perhaps. A disgruntled soldier….”
“Disgruntled? Good Lord! You make it sound as if he has sent a letter of censure to your superiors!” Mingo was trembling harder, with growing rage. “This is not about anger, it is about revenge!”
Lord Dunsmore managed to look slightly surprised. “I am a soldier. I make decisions every day that weigh on other’s lives. Decisions they do not always countenance. What would you have me do?” he asked, growing hot, “do nothing!”
Mingo glanced at the note again. One phrase rang in his mind and haunted him. He suffers in a place without light. He swallowed hard. Did that mean James was dead and buried? Or that he lived and was in pain?
He crushed the note at last in his fingers. “I will have to go to England.”
“To England!” he all but shouted. “Nothing here says James is dead. He has been taken, and, from this, it seems more likely that he is in torment. I have to find him.” Mingo turned then and started back toward the village. He did not know what he would do. He didn’t want to see England again, ever. There were things there – people there he did not want to face. But he would face them for James if there was the tiniest flicker of hope that the boy was alive.
“Kerr, stop. You don’t have to go to England. Listen to me!” his father called after him.
Mingo pivoted sharply. “You cannot stop me.”
“I have no desire to stop you,” the older man said, drawing closer. “It is just that there is no need to go. The boy was with me when he was taken.”
“Well, not with me, but with my party. We arrived in New York three months ago.”
“James is here?” Mingo was stunned. “Why did he not write? He would have written – ”
“He wanted to surprise you. I sent him ahead with the best of my men as an escort. Somewhere, not too far from here, he was taken. Within a day’s walk of Boonesborough. Several of my men were killed. The survivors are at the fort now.”
Hope and terror mingled in his heart. If James was here, then there was hope he could find him. Mingo’s eyes traveled the length of the green wooded hills surrounding them. And a greater likelihood he would not.
“Then the soldiers saw the men who did this? That is something to begin with. And there must have been sign left –”
“Son.” His father’s hand fell on his shoulder. “They saw nothing. They had to run.”
“Run! They left him there defenseless?” Mingo’s fingers tightened on his weapon. “Why?”
The older man released him. “James did not travel alone. The soldiers fled to keep the others safe.”
“What others? And why could they not defend themselves?”
“My men are not the only ones who await us in Boonesborough. There is a young serving girl named Patsy. And James’ mother, Catherine Saynsberry.”