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Something of my early life and how I came to be captured.
My sister was born in the City of Philadelphia, as I was, she in the year 1770, I in 1772. She was named Cathleen, while I am called Kevin. Our mother having died when I was born, I do not remember her at all. Our father, a carpenter by trade, had fled Ireland for America carrying no tools but his hatred of the English, who, he said, "broke my heart, but never my soul."
When the War of Independence took firm hold on American patriots, our father, who knew no higher duty than to fight his ancient enemy, left my sister and me in the protection of our mother's cousin, a Mrs. Barry.
Mrs. Barry was a good woman; she housed us and taught us our letters. But being also a good woman of business, she was more concerned with her millinery shop than with her poor and always hungry relations. As a result, my sister and I, rejected by other children as riffraff, clung together and did mostly as we wished. This meant wandering off into the not distant forests where we played the hours away. Our pleasure, such as it was, was to live more like Indians than dwellers of the city, creating habits and skills that brought blessings, as you will see.
When the war was over, our father, whom we had not heard from or seen for seven years, came back to claim us. That it was our father there was no doubt, though it was he more in body than in mind. For seven years he had fought for the cause of Liberty, but it had, at last, cost him his soul. Without reducing his enduring hatred of all things English, he informed the world that the English Parliament had its equal only in the halls ofAmerican government. "The snake in Eden," he proclaimed, "was but the first politician." He wished to have no more contacts with governments, or as it turned out, with any society.
Having so stated his mind and asserted his claim to us, he announced that we were to find peace in the southern wilderness of New Jersey. There was nothing my sister or I could do. Nor did the pleas, not overly forceful, by our mother's cousin, that a girl of thirteen
and a boy of eleven were not fit for such a living have much success. Our father, denouncing all tyrants save himself, made his word law.
So it came to be that in July of 1783, with nothing more than packs upon our backs, we boarded a ferry, and after crossing the Delaware, headed due east. Very quickly we were made small by the great green and quiet forests of southern New Jersey.
I do not know exactly how long we tramped, but it was for many days. Father, we had come to see, was completely mad. No sooner did he aim for one direction than he would change course and pursue yet another place. And while it is true that he led us, it was in reality my sister's Indian arts that allowed us to survive. Not that father noticed. His mind traveled other worlds. just where he was going we had not the slightest idea, other than his repeated hope that there existed a place without benefit of government. Such hopes led us directly into calamity.
My sister and I had made the camp at the bottom of a little dell. Having secured the site, caught some squirrels, gathered some food, and lighted a fire, we sat and watched father become progressively more removed from us. He did no more than sit and stir the thoughts within his head.
For three days we stayed in that place, wondering whether or not we were ever again going to meet with human company. The rising wisp of smoke from our little fire seemed the very unraveling of our lives. Indeed, my sister began to consider what could be done to save us. For one thing was clear: the man who called himself our father was leading us to destruction.
But on the third day, while my sister and I sat, as usual, at some distance from our father, speaking in low tones about what we should do, we heard the sudden loud report of a pistol, so close and so shattering of the silence to which we had grown accustomed that we were thrown into a state of frozen terror.
This was just as well, for in an instant we saw that we were surrounded by a group of men. To have come upon anyone in so deep a pocket of eternity as this would have been startling, but to encounter men such as these was horrifying, as if we had stumbled into the mouth of hell.
The men were bedecked in a mixture of uniforms such as I had never seen, costumes of every color, order, and nation, rather like a company of players in which every actor was performing in a different play. The gay colors of their dress contrasted with faces stamped with fierce anger; no light of love or kindness shone in any eye I saw. They were armed with swords, pistols, cutlasses, and muskets. If we had been an invading army, they could not have met us with greater force.
One man stood out in front of the gang. A man, as I came to know him, who went by the name of Captain Grey. He was their leader, but he was not a big man. Compared to the others he seemed almost small. Indeed, his thin, pale face gave him a wasted look; but the hatred emblazoned upon his eyes, unwavering and instantly understood, was aflame with life.
He wore breeches and boots of a simple cut, and he alone among the men wore a shirt of plain linen, which gave him a distinctive look. Clean shaven, hair neatly tied, he held a sword in his hand. Round his middle he had wrapped a sash into which he had placed two fine pistols. He rather struck me as a gentleman.