The Accursed Thing



            By the time James had recovered enough to rise from his bed, the winter had set in and so, Mingo had his son with him for nearly four months.  The winter of 1777 proved to be one of the most bitter the colonies had known.  Mingo built a temporary lodge close by to the Boone cabin and it was there he stayed.  Israel was a frequent inhabitant, along with his menagerie.  Once he was well enough James joined them and the three of them had many glad nights spent telling tales around the fire.

            But the best times were when they were alone.

            James was quieter than he remembered.  Raised in part by Catherine’s brother to emulate his noble peers, two years before his son had sometimes proved petulant and difficult.  And had seemed lost.  Much as he had been as a boy of thirteen or so cast adrift in the sea of London.  Now James seemed centered.  Wise in a way beyond his years.

            English Justice had had much to do with that.

            For months neither of them spoke of what had happened.  It was as if the pain were too close and too deep.  But slowly, as the winter dragged on and there was more and more time to sit and think and talk, they began to share.  James spoke of the time he had spent imprisoned in the wooden box Serapis had constructed.  At first he could talk about little but the horror he had felt at being trapped, but slowly, the talk turned from him to others – to those who were caged and shipped like animals across the seas, to the Africans and their struggle to be free. 

            “How is it, father,” he asked him one day, “that you fight for freedom, but that freedom does not include the negro?”

            Mingo pursed his lips and shook his head.  “James, it does not include the red man either.  But one day – one day it will.  This revolution is a glorious experiment and as many experiments, it is flawed.  But the idea – the formula is right.  All men are created equal and  endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  You and I may not live to see it.  Your children may not.  But one day, it will be so.”

            James fell silent for a moment.  “That won’t help Minerva now.”

            Minerva was staying with the Boones, along with Catherine.  They saw her at meals and sometimes James would stay a day or two in the cabin, but for the most part the two young people had been kept so busy there had been little time to themselves.  James’ mother had adjusted admirably.  She had taken the young woman under her wing and begun to teach her proper manners and speech.  He did not know what Catherine thought of her as a prospective daughter-in-law, but she treated Minerva with kindness and equality.

            And the young woman blossomed under her care.

            Mingo rose to his feet and held out his hand.  James smiled and shook it off.  Then he rose to his feet without aid.  The scars of the ordeal he had been through that were visible had healed, Mingo did not know about the scars within.

            Perhaps James needed Minerva to overcome them.

            “It’s light out, Father,” his son remarked as he walked to door and threw the blanket covering it aside.  It was March and the birds were singing.  Soon the snow would give way to sweet green grass.

            And it would be time for them to go.

            “The one who dwells above has gifted us another day,” Mingo said as he laid his hand on his son’s shoulder.  “What we do with it is ours to determine.” 

            James nodded.  “I’ve been thinking…” he began.


            “Where I go from here.”

            “I understood from your mother that the intent was to return to England.”

            James laughed.  “That is mother’s intent.”

            “But you are not so sure?”

            His son turned his long lanky body around and leaned against the lodge’s wall.  “I want to help Minerva’s people.”

            Mingo held his breath for a moment.  It did not come as a surprise.  “And how will you do that?”

            He smiled.  “I still have that letter from grandfather to William and Mary.”

            “What?”  His father had written that for James over two years before.  It was what had brought his son to the colonies in the first place.  James was a gifted composer and musician, but it had been Lord Dunsmore’s wish that he study the law. 

            “When I went back home to England, I used to sit and look at it and think what might have been.  I couldn’t quite throw it away.”

            “I thought you resisted returning to the colonies.”

            James admitted it with a shy grin.  “I thought my life was hard.  That having a father who was half-Cherokee was something I couldn’t quite handle.  It was easier in England.”

            Thinking he knew where the conversation was going, Mingo said quietly, “It still is.”

            “I know.  And I know I dare not tell anyone why it is I want to study the law.”  He laughed.  “I am afraid the professors might just toss me out on my ear if they knew my desire was to overthrow the institution of slavery.”

            “Where will Minerva go?  She is known in Virginia.”

            “With mother.”  James pushed off the wall.  “In England, she will be free.”

            “Has she agreed to this?”

            “Reluctantly,” he admitted.  Then he added with a smile, “But I think the years will fly fast.  There is so much she has not known, and never seen.  Mother has promised to give her an education.  A useful one.”

            “So you will go back to England then?”

            “I think so.  England is ripe to be the nation to put this to the test.  The people are for it, and there are men there, like Granville Sharpe, determined to make a change.  I would like to be a part of that.  And then, perhaps one day, I can return and be a part of the same change here.”

            Pride fought with a deep sense of loss within him.  Though, with James in Virginia there was hope they would meet again.  If life took his son to England, it was not likely.  But then, that was in the hands of the one who dwelt above.

            “You have my blessing.  Both of you,” he said.

            James was silent a moment.  “I could not have wished for a better father.  Even though the time we have spent together has been brief, what you are – the man you are – is written upon my heart.  I love you.”

            Mingo was speechless for a moment, overwhelmed with grace.  He opened his arms and embraced his son, and then the two of them went out into the glory of the new day.




            James left in time for the spring term at the college, with the promise that he would visit as soon as he could.  Catherine and Minerva set sail for England the week before that.  The girl was terrified, but brave.  She had told Rebecca that she wanted to be the best she could be, and be worthy to become James’ bride.




            Two weeks after they left a packet arrived in the mail.  It was from his father.  Mingo opened it and found it contained several letters.  The first, addressed to him, explained how English Justice had come to know James was Lord Dunsmore’s grandson.  One of the soldiers who had served with Marcus Saynsberry two years earlier, when Marcus had come to Kentucky to seek his nephew, had also been a part of the current group escorting James.  A casual remark to an African carpenter named Serapis had set the stage.

So there had been no betrayal there after all. 

            The second letter contained an official decree granting Minerva her freedom.  Mingo stared at it for some time.  Then he took the letter and folded it, and placed it in his lodge in the wooden trunk he now kept in the corner – the one he had brought from England all those years ago.  Minerva didn’t need it.

            She was already free.



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