A Familiar Turf — A Foreign Time
The year is 1758, and though the locale is workaday New York, the landscape is wildly exotic. Our fresh-faced hero is Thomas Dordrecht, raised on a remote farm—in the heart of modern Brooklyn—speaking both Dutch and English. Though he thinks himself unusually worldly, he has no idea what he’ll face when he agrees to defend the claims of King George II in the brutal French and Indian War. In six exciting months, he gains a lifetime’s education not only in honor, courage, and tenacity, but in rashness, cowardice, falsehood … and murder!
* * *
Act of War! Ten months after the humiliating defeat and terrifying massacre at Fort William Henry—famously recounted in Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans—the fierce, blood-soaked conflict still rages throughout North America. Seven soldiers of DeLancey’s New York regiment went foraging, but only six returned. The missing man was found with an arrow in his belly, scalped. Everyone had dismissed the warning that enemy Indians were prowling the vicinity—even the victim’s best friend….
They were talking about me, I was sure of it. And I couldn’t for the life of me imagine why. I continued inspecting the asparagus, early peas, and summer squash—produce that my mother had, as usual, commissioned me to procure for the tavern.
Mr. Martin, the amiable grocer, was looking slightly perturbed as his interlocutor—a trim, youngish gentleman, clearly well-to-do in a smart light green woolen frock coat and a neatly-dressed bobbed wig—repeatedly glanced in my direction. I moved to another aisle of bins as if to examine the horse oats. Glancing to the side, I saw the newcomer staring at me in a fashion some might regard as positively indecent.
Martin cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Thomas?”
“Thomas, I, uh, want you to meet Mr. Han….”
“James Hannamore, young sir,” the gentleman said heartily, grasping my hand and giving it a vigorous shake.
“Your servant, sir.”
“Martin tells me you’ve been doing business with him regularly for some years?”
“Indeed, sir. My family owns a farm and a tavern at New Utrecht on Long Island, and I come in twice weekly to sell our excess staples, and to buy specialties we can only find over here in Manhattan.”
“I see, I see,” Hannamore said, his eyes flashing with an apparent delight in my person that I found utterly mystifying. “Isn’t that one of the Dutch towns, New Utrecht?”
“Aye sir, though many others have long since moved in as well.” I realized I’d seen this man before—but where?
“You’re Dutch, then, I suppose, Mr. Dordrecht?”
I was briefly speechless. First, because he’d already found out my surname, and even pronounced it correctly; second, because he’d called me Mister. “My father’s family came to the New Netherlands in the early days, sir, a century ago; but my mother was born and raised in Wiltshire.”
“How curious. But are you Church of England, then?”
The grocer looked exasperated. “The family’s Dutch Reformed, of course, Mr. Hannamore!” he muttered.
“Reformed, as much as anything, sir,” I said, edging toward irritation myself.
“Oh my!” He grinned sardonically, raising his brows. “Not a free-thinker, at such a tender age?”
“Thomas is quite tall for his years, he’s just a lad!”
“Begging your pardon, Mr. Martin,” I protested, unwilling to let the Mister go, “I turned eighteen some months back!” Martin’s grimace told me I’d somehow said something wrong, so I checked my tongue.
“Eighteen, eh? I have a fifteen-year-old in my company, he’s all but superannuated!” Hannamore blared jovially, apparently scoring some point against Mr. Martin. The latter frowned and moved away to assist a lady who’d just entered his establishment. “We need strapping young lads like you, Dordrecht!” Hannamore continued, his eyes boring into mine. “The King needs his loyal subjects!”
“The King, sir?”
“For the colonial regiments, of course, lad! It will take many brave men to conquer Canada! I’ve signed up myself, and I’ve volunteered to form a platoon for Colonel DeLancey’s New York Regiment.”
My countenance must surely have fallen. I had instantly conceived a wild hope that Hannamore had conjured up gainful employment for me in some dashing business venture—a position that would rescue me from my irascible father and my family’s tedious farm and hostelry—which would eventually be willed to my overbearing eldest brother Harmanus anyway. But he was talking about the provincial military. Quite a letdown! “The army?”
Hannamore nodded eagerly. I looked askance for a second and gathered my thoughts. “Ah, well, I’m very sorry, Mr. Hannamore, but, um, my family duties will not permit me to join anyone’s platoon….” He studied me intently, apparently happily unconvinced. Feeling unable simply to walk away, I blundered onward. “And after what I’ve heard about the treatment of Americans by the Regulars, and after the catastrophes of General Braddock and of Fort William Henry, I confess that, duty to the King and all notwithstanding….”
“Nonsense, lad, that’s all over now! They’ve come up with an entirely new policy towards us in the colonies, and they’ve finally gotten serious about driving the Papists out of North America!” He beamed triumphantly.
I’d met a Romanist or two, in my wanderings about New York City, and even a Hebrew, once. I’d also met some extremely tiresome Puritans. No one was talking about driving them out of North America! “That so?” I said unenthusiastically.
“You’ve heard that the new cabinet has promised to refund all expenditures of the colonial legislatures, thus assuring volunteers full and prompt payment?”
“Is that Mr. Pitt’s government, sir?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.
“My, my, my! You even know the Prime Minister’s name!”
Martin had rejoined us. “Jacob the ferryman says Thomas has always read the entire newspaper by the time he ties up over in Brooklyn,” he stated, looking paternal.
Hannamore looked almost awed. I confess the gaze was somewhat flattering. “Can you write?”
“Yes sir. Dominie Van Voort says my pen is legible, though hardly beautiful.”
“Superb! I need an adjutant.”
“Thomas now does his father’s accounts, too, I understand,” Martin offered.
I was blushing with embarrassment as Hannamore delivered his clincher: “Then you’ll surely understand the value of the pay that’s being offered for this season….”
“What’s that, sir?” I asked, positive it’d be of no interest.
“Thomas, do you not need any sugar or salt this week?” Martin interrupted, his eyes wide with alarm.
“It’s twenty-two pounds ten shillings, for every man who serves through November twenty-fifth!” Hannamore announced triumphantly.
Well, that did stump me. “Five pounds of sugar, please, Mr. Martin,” I said hastily, covering my confusion. “Twenty-two pounds ten?” I repeated to Hannamore.
“Twenty-two and ten, sir. Not a king’s ransom, perhaps, but enough to keep a family for over a year! Are you married?”
“Ah, well, you could get married then, you see!”
Marriage was of no immediate interest to me, but many, many other things were, and my mind was instantly jumping with arithmetic. I could buy a mandolin. Or perhaps a guitar? Zounds, with that kind of money, I could buy my own clavichord! I could find rooms in the city! “Thomas?” Martin beckoned. “Thomas!” I allowed him to pull me aside. “Thomas, when you join the army, boy, and you travel to the far north to quarrel with the French, you get shot at, lad! Shot at! It’s not militia practice! Lots of men don’t come home at all, Thomas, or—worse—they come home without an arm, a leg, or an eye! That dark-haired fellow, Andrew, who worked for me two winters ago? His mate told me the savages tomahawked him and cut his scalp off before he was even dead!”
Though surprised by the grocer’s vehemence, I dismissed it, thinking, “Oh I know all that!”
“All the more reason Mr. Dordrecht should sign up, Mr. Martin!” Hannamore interposed, having eavesdropped. “The only way we’ll ever stop the savages from terrorizing our frontiers is by stopping the French from inciting them! Our duty to the King is quite clear, sir!”
Now scowling openly at Hannamore, Martin literally grabbed me by the shirt. “And what of your duty to your Mother, Thomas? She’ll not forgive you—or me, for that matter—if you join up and get yourself killed!”
“We can see that she never learns that I recruited Thomas here, Martin,” Hannamore observed unctuously.
The grocer simply looked disgusted. “You remember how hard she took your brother Aalbert’s death?” Martin said, looking me in the eye. “Can you do that to her? Just so the King can have Canada?”
Both men were staring at me. “I’ll … have to think about it,” I said—with great relief that the option of procrastination had presented itself.
“Of course,” Hannamore allowed easily. “Of course. Tell you what, I’ll treat you to lunch at Ruskin’s, and we can talk some more. But first, I must settle my accounts here. How much is that, Mr. Martin?”
“A shilling and sevenpence,” Martin hissed with uncustomary and unbecoming ill grace.
“There you are, and thanks. I’ll meet you outside, Mr. Dordrecht!” The door closed after him.
“Don’t trust him, Thomas! This war’s a terrible thing, no mistake! I’m sorry. When he asked me to introduce you, there was no way I could….”
“He seems honest, Mr. Martin, surely?” The old grocer looked dubious. “Honest enough, surely?”
“Perhaps, lad. But that could be just the problem!”
As usual, the purchases would be delivered to the Crown Street ferry. Concluding our business—far more voluminous than Hannamore’s—the grocer admonished me with earnest emphasis, “Remember me to your mother and father, Thomas!”
* * *
Martin had struck one thundering chord. I was the fourth of my parents’ five surviving children. They had over the years lost three infants within a month of birth, but nothing had so stricken us all as my younger brother Aalbert’s death from cholera four years ago. He’d been eleven, and everyone’s favorite, even Father’s. Mother had been so physically crushed she could barely walk to the gravesite, and Father’s drinking, bad before, had doubled. It would be horrendous were she to suffer anything like that again. But….
Would losing me be anywhere near as upsetting? Me? I really doubted it. And why jump to such a drastic conclusion anyway?
Hannamore was talking to a sallow young man on the far side of Stone Street as I came out of the shop. The fellow grinned at me as I approached, but abruptly saluted Hannamore—quite smartly—and departed.
“Ah, Dordrecht!” said the latter, taking my arm. “A beautiful day, is it not?” I allowed that it was a fine spring day indeed. “It should be even more fresh and green further up the river, wouldn’t you imagine?”
“I would suppose so, sir.”
“You’ve never been on the great North River?”
“Some friends and I rowed over to Hoboken once, last summer, and climbed the cliffs there.” I pointed to the northwest, but the city’s huge five-story buildings of course obstructed the view. “You can see the north tip of Manhattan Island from there!”
Hannamore snorted in mild derision. “Haven’t even begun to see the colony of New York, then!”
This touched a nerve. “I’ve actually never been further than ten miles from my birthplace, sir.”
“So!” he noted. We’d reached the entry of Ruskin’s tavern, a respectable establishment with which I was long familiar—though I tended now to save money by preferring cheaper places. “Ah, after you.”
It was mid-day, and the tavern was at its busiest, with merchants, artisans, and sailors taking all the seats. Hannamore waved enthusiastically at a pair of English soldiers—their red coats glaring even in the dark, oak-timbered room—and one of them nodded rather superciliously back. When we finally sat, I ordered cider. Though I’d drunk heartier spirits for years—and would have preferred ale at the moment—my father’s sorry example suggested the prudence of preserving such wits as I might boast amid unfamiliar company.
“The King!” Hannamore bawled, so loudly that heads turned.
I lifted my glass to touch his over the center of the table. “The King!” I cheerfully repeated.
“So. You are a member of the militia, I take it?”
“Aye.” All men fifteen to fifty are so required by the assembly, as if he didn’t know. “We muster outside town every Saturday noon in the summer, and monthly during the winter.” It occurred to me to add, “It bores me to distraction and old Van Klost is a jackass,” but I didn’t.
“Oh yes. I’m a fair shot.” I smiled with the memory of my father’s and my brothers’ irritation when I bested them at targets.
“I’m sure you’re excessively modest, Dordrecht!” Hannamore beamed.
The grocer’s distrust returned to me. “Oh no!” I avowed. But again I couldn’t help recalling how my father had made a fool of himself, insisting to Van Klost that he’d confused my target with my brother Brevoort’s, and Van Klost turning red with pompous insistence that he never made mistakes….
“Militia ever get called up?”
“Last time was over five years ago. Some sheep had strayed off, and the whole town got in an uproar, thinking they’d been stolen. Before I joined.” Which makes it all a monumental waste of time!
“Towns can’t be too careful, nonetheless,” Hannamore asserted piously. “No marauding Indians in your neck of the woods?”
“New Utrecht’s only five miles from here, sir!”
“Never shot Frogs, then?”
“Frenchies, lad! You never shot at a man?”
“Of course not.”
The serving wench had arrived. “Have the mutton stew, by all means!” Hannamore urged. I did. Why settle for carrot soup when he was paying? Stew quickly arrived for us both, and my host regaled me with the glories of the upper Hudson—mountains, waterfalls, huge farmsteads, real wild Indians—as we proceeded to demolish the excellent meal. I kept trying to place where I’d seen him before. He was clearly not from old England—his accent resembled Mr. Martin’s more than that of my mother or the Redcoats—and was not at all like the Dutch-inflected English of my father and our neighbors—but I still couldn’t recall the circumstance. He seemed unable to come to the point, which was fine with me, as I was trying to gather my reasons for turning him down. He offered me tobacco, but I haven’t yet taken to it.
“What’s that you’re reading?” he asked, apparently having just noticed the volume I was carrying.
“It’s Tom Jones,” I replied, passing the book over to him. “Quite a lot of fun,” I breezed on. “Have you read it?”
He took it rather gingerly. “Isn’t that the one that’s rather shockingly immoral?” he mumbled, not really quite asking a question. “I don’t…. Oh my!” He brightened back up.
“The bookplate. You borrowed this from Mr. Colegrove?”
“Indeed, he’s been exceedingly generous in lending books to me. Somehow Dominie Van Voort is an acquaintance of his, and….”
“He’s my patron too!” Hannamore enthused.
Aha! “That’s where I’ve seen you before!”
“I knew I’d seen you somewhere before, but I couldn’t place it.”
He looked embarrassed. “Good lord, were we introduced?”
“No no. I was in the library, and I saw Mr. Colegrove walking you out from the parlor.”
“Back in January?”
“Must have been. It was only the second time I’d been let loose in that room, and I was thrilled merely to be there. I suppose he lets you borrow, also?”
“Oh yes, of course,” Hannamore said diffidently. “But … I’m not that much of a scholar.”
I found this rather droll, but checked my smirking. “You hardly need to be a scholar to find….”
“You weren’t planning to return that book today, by any chance?”
“Well, yes, actually. It’s my next errand.”
“Then we shall go up together! I must speak with him. He’s the one who is supporting my efforts, you see. He’s a cousin of Lieutenant Governor DeLancey, you know.”
“Really? I hadn’t known. It’s the Lieutenant Governor’s regiment?”
“His brother Oliver’s.”
“A good family to know!”
“Are you related to Mr. Colegrove?”
“Oh no. But my uncle is his chief clerk—John Glasby, you must have met him?—and he’s hoping to get me into Colegrove’s service. After this summer’s campaign, that is.” He left the waitress a tip that first struck me as ostentatious; but then I rebuked myself for old-Dutch parsimony. “Shall we go?”
There was, obviously, no way I could refuse his companionship. “Thank you, yes. Mr. Glasby is your uncle, then? It’s he whom I always see there,” I remarked as we started climbing up Broadway. “I was only presented to Mr. Colegrove once.”
“A most impressive gentleman! Doing quite well this year, arranging supplies for the troops. He has entirely supported my recruitments. Bought me this uniform, in fact!”
“Oh? It’s very fine.” I hadn’t realized it was a uniform.
* * *
It was only a few minutes’ walk up the hill, but Hannamore ran out of small talk, and I, in some consternation, mulled over my future.
Though wildly desirous of achieving some measure of wealth, esteem, or notoriety … the plain truth was that my vocational antipathies were stronger than my direction. I could surely find no interest whatever in farming—shopping in the big city had excited me far too much for that!
While protesting dutiful affection for my family and my hometown, the suffocating confinement of winter had made me frantic to escape both. Further, events over this past month—such as might seem innocuous, I suppose, to more mature perspectives—had filled me with an apprehension of urgency, of crisis.
Dominie Van Voort had advised me in March that the only way I could realistically proceed with any formal education was by going into orders, an option Harmanus piously endorsed but that I, a candid admirer of science and Dr. Franklin, had no inclination to pursue.
Consequently, Harmanus—who’s ten years my senior—is barely on speaking terms with me. As we'd furrowed the fields earlier this month, he’d barked orders as contemptuously as if I'd been indentured to him, and not his own flesh and blood. And he'd infuriated me again just Monday, by tearing me away from the two hours the Dominie affords me for harpsichord practice, just to manure vegetable beds in the house garden that surely could have waited!
Then I’d been shocked and confounded last week when my cousin and very best friend, Bertie Hampers, blithely announced his engagement to my annoying, over-plump neighbor Jenneken Van Klost, just as I was resuming the torturesome weekly exercises with her preposterous father. When I protested my horror of this arrangement to Mother, she'd appalled me by observing wistfully that she too was disappointed … because she thought Jenneken would have made a fine catch for me! As I reeled, thinking she couldn’t possibly be serious, she’d chilled my blood by adding, “We’ll have to find you another one!”
All this was overshadowed by the fact that my father had cuffed me, in the stable, this very morning before dawn. It appeared I’d failed to muck it out to his satisfaction! Pa hadn't beaten me for two years, not since I'd started fighting back against Harmanus, and this reversion—brought on by liquor, I presume—he'd spent the night there—had kept me in a lather for all the hours since.
* * *
We passed the Anglican cathedral and I looked forlornly at the new building of the King’s College, which would be beyond my financial reach even with the inflated pay Hannamore was suggesting. Colegrove’s house was fifty paces to the north, beyond King Street. It was brick and quite respectable, though not the most attractive mansion of the locality.
Just as we were about to rap the knocker, however, the master himself appeared, Mr. Glasby at his heels, on his way out. “Ah Hannamore!” Colegrove exclaimed genially. “And um….”
“Thomas Dordrecht,” Hannamore supplied for me.
“Yes yes! Well. You’re on your way then?”
“Indeed, sir. I came to thank you and to bid you a profitable summer.”
“Very good. Very good. And, uh….”
He looked to me to state my business. “I’m just returning this book to Mr. Glasby, which you were so kind as to lend me, Mr. Colegrove.”
“Uh huh. Well, gentlemen, I’m afraid neither I nor Mr. Glasby can stop to chat this afternoon, I am quite pressed.” He held his hand out for the book, and quickly checked the spine. “Good heavens! Glasby, how did this volume come to be in my collection?” He looked put out with both the clerk and myself.
Glasby reddened. “It’s, um…. Uh, Mrs. Colegrove purchased this one, sir, last winter, and….”
“Well you mustn’t let the likes of …”—he nodded in my direction—“borrow….”
“Certainly not, sir. Never again.”
“You should be reading practical matters, young sir! Science! Technique! Physick!”
“Indeed that is my ambition, Mr. Colegrove, though I also….”
“Not this arrant nonsense, this … fiction!” The very word was clearly anathema to him.
I thought it prudent to make no response, but Hannamore interjected, “Thomas may well have no time for reading at all, as he’s considering joining the platoon!”
“Aha! You’d have an even dozen, then!”
“Yes, at last. Not great, but at least a respectable cohort!”
“Well, now, Mr. Hannamore, I….”
“That would be excellent, Master Thom- … Mr. Dordrecht, excellent! There can be no finer school in life than the army, and the King and our colonial council are depending on hardy fellows like you and Mr. Hannamore to free us from the unceasing depredations of our conniving French neighbors! You must borrow extra books if you’re going to be away for the campaign!”
“Be sure you keep them in an oilskin pouch,” Glasby admonished gently.
“You’re very kind, sir!” Hannamore gushed.
“Please only stay an hour, gentlemen,” Colegrove said. “Even my housekeeper will have errands later this afternoon!” He started trotting briskly down Broadway, amid our profuse thanks.
“Mind you leave me a list, James,” Glasby murmured to his nephew. “And it certainly wouldn’t hurt you to avail yourself of a book! But please don’t take any of the most valuable ones to the front, all right?”
“Of course not, Uncle!”
“Good luck to you, lads!” Glasby dashed after his employer.
* * *
We remained on the stoop another full minute, Hannamore watching the two men hustle down Broadway as I, in something of a flutter, reveled in the memory of Mr. Aaron Colegrove’s having addressed me as “Mr. Dordrecht.” The thought that I, who’d just mucked a cowshed, might ever speak to real gentlemen as an equal—or at least speak to gentlemen on occasion—led to rising fantasies of becoming a man of affairs in my own right, perhaps someday even owning a fine brick house in the capital town! All sorts of marvels seemed to be possible in our remote part of the world. And Poor Richard’s dictum resounded: “God helps those who help themselves!”
The housekeeper cleared her throat, eager to close the front door and continue about her business. Hannamore and I walked into the handsome library. I picked a shelf at random, and nervously scanned the titles. He sat at the reading table and drummed his fingers. “So Thomas! You joining up? We can really use you, lad!”
I pulled out a compilation of the sermons of Cotton Mather, and suddenly imagined myself stuck in some squalid frontier place with it for company. I hurriedly set it back and pulled out Harvey’s Anatomy instead. “I’ll have to think about it, Mr. Hannamore!”
“Call me James.”
“Though once we’re formed up, you’ll have to call me ‘Sergeant,’ you know,” he added smugly. I wondered what the point was, in that event, of addressing him familiarly now. “Montcalm isn’t giving us extra time to think, you understand!”
Montcalm, I knew well from news reports, was the general in New France. He had thrashed the British last summer, burning the remote northern frontier bastion, Fort William Henry, to the ground. “With all due respect, James, I’m not sure I see how this is any of my business!”
Hannamore sat up, both alarmed and indignant. “Well you know the history, right? I’m told we’ve been attacked four times by the French, just in the last sixty years! How else are you going to deal with such people? We’ve got to….”
But I recalled old Gosselick ter Oonck, Harmanus’ father-in-law, shaking his head over everyone’s dismay at the far-off defeat, which had been followed by a massacre, saying, “We? We were attacked? Or was it that the English stupidly provoked their own disaster?” Ter Oonck, as levelheaded as his daughter was feather-brained, was as greatly respected in New Utrecht as Dominie Van Voort. “You’re not going to convince me by complaining about the French, James,” I announced definitively.
There was a gleam in his eye that should have warned me he wasn’t giving up. “What will convince you, then, Thomas?” I ignored the question and rose to examine another shelf, thinking of our constricted time. There was an old geography of Asia that looked interesting. “You did mind Mr. Colegrove’s suggestion that a man could surely better himself in the army, Thomas? ‘No finer school,’ I believe he said?”
“Yes,” I agreed, noting the point. “I’ll be sure to ask the Dominie about it.”
“And just think what you could do with twenty-two pounds and ten shillings next winter! You could buy whatever books you chose!” He was staring at me eagerly, though I knew perfectly well he thought only a lunatic would use all that money to buy books. Still…. “You’d like to adventure out and see something of your home province too, would you not, Thomas? Shame to live your entire life in so small an area, don’t you think?”
He was scoring points, much to my irritation. “Look, James, I promise you, I will discuss it with my mentor. But we have only a few more minutes here. Please allow me to search the shelves. Don’t you want to find something—something long—to take up there with you?”
Hannamore grunted, and turned toward a nearby shelf.
Curious: Logic, or the Right Use of Reason, by Dr. Isaac Watts. The hymn-writer! Surely this would be worthwhile! Aha, a French grammar? Well, I should continue my studies, whether Dominie Van Voort can help me or no. Actually, he could still coach my pronunciation, and….
“You’d actually read all this stuff?” Hannamore asked incredulously. I suddenly noticed he had a squint.
“Oh yes, I’ve concluded it’s the only way I’m going to learn anything.”
“Hmm!” I spied a hefty tome, Discourses Concerning Government, by Algernon Sydney, and recollected a passionate young Virginian in a tavern, declaiming how important it was. Perhaps this would help me understand…. “We have to get on the boat this afternoon,” Hannamore said softly, not facing me.
“This afternoon!” I squawked, outraged. Outraged because, despite misgivings, I was considering his offer.
“Current changes just before five o’clock.”
He turned to face me again. “Twenty-two pounds ten on November twenty-fifth, Thomas,” he said earnestly. “That, and the respect of the likes of your patron and mine, Mr. Aaron Colegrove! I don’t mind telling you that such matters figured in my own decision!” What had the venerable grocer said? I couldn’t recall. The memory of his vexed face was somehow growing indistinct. “Whether one means to do his duty by the King or not!”
I fought down an impulse to shout, “To hell with the King!” telling myself I didn’t mean it. Because I didn’t, of course! “I … have to choose among these books,” I said stubbornly. “Mr. Glasby allows me only one at a time.”
“You could take all five, Mr. Colegrove himself said … if you were going on the campaign!” Hannamore came back smoothly. I simply gaped at him, momentarily overcome by my greed for the books. “Twenty-two and a half pounds, Thomas! How else are you ever going to make so much money?”
I gulped. He had me. “All right,” I croaked.