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The Duke Legacy
By D.W. Duke
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 D.W. Duke
All rights reserved.
The Legacy Begins
In the summer of 1826, five-year-old Washington Duke sat in the grass, holding a large, green grasshopper in the palm of his hand. The insect crawled around his thumb, and Washington turned his hand over to watch its progress. Feeling that he could sense the curiosity of this small creature, who appeared to be a gentle giant in his own world, Washington watched the insect walk around his hand unconcerned; he then turned his palm downward, allowing the insect to cross the dorsal surface in an upright position. The grasshopper spat a brown fluid on his hand. "What is that?" he asked Billy, his twenty-three-year-old brother who was sitting next to him. Billy was reading the Bible as they talked. Although the family had a Bible, Billy liked to carry his own so he could study no matter where he was.
"He is spitting tobacco on you," replied Billy. "The grasshopper does that to protect himself from harm. It doesn't hurt people, but it will discourage a field mouse or other small animal."
"Where did he get tobacco?"
"It isn't real tobacco," Billy said with a laugh. "It's digestive fluid acting upon the plants he has eaten."
"What is it for?"
"The grasshopper does that when he feels threatened. It gives off an odor detectable by small animals. Ordinarily, when a small animal encounters it he will back away from the grasshopper." Washington put the grasshopper on the ground and then stood up. "I don't want to scare him." Although he could not have known, someday he would become a gentle giant in his own world, much like the grasshopper he so admired as a child.
"It is good that you don't want to scare him. We should be kind to all living things. It says that in the Bible, and even the Eno people say that. We better go to the house for dinner. Mammy is making chicken and dumplings." Billy stood up and reached for Washington's hand.
"I love chicken and dumplings," Washington replied as he and Billy ran to the Duke homestead.
"Wash your hands before you sit at the table," said Washington's father, Taylor, when the boys entered the rustic building they called home. The family home was a wooden structure with five rooms and an oak frame with pine board walls. The family grew produce primarily for their own consumption, and they traded or sold some of the crops at the market in town. The crops consisted of beans, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and various fruits. They also grew cotton, some of which was used to make clothing for themselves and some of which was sold at the local market, and they grew tobacco, which they also sold at the local market. In addition, they raised cows and chickens. The cows provided dairy products for the community, and the chickens produced a daily supply of eggs. There were no schools in the area at the time, but Taylor and Dicey successfully taught all of their children mathematics, science, literature, music, and art. The son of Henry Duke, a scholarly man who had left a comfortable position among Virginia high society to raise his family in the wilderness, Taylor was able to keep his children abreast of the latest world events, while providing the rudiments of an education in the backwoods of North Carolina.
Inside the home was a dining table that was large enough to accommodate Washington's family of ten children. At one end of the living room area, which also served as the dining area, was a large fireplace. On each side of the fireplace was a wooden rocking chair; one was for Taylor, and one for Dicey. At various locations around the room there were other rocking chairs, but the children usually sat at the dining table when they studied. A long, soft Georgian couch, which doubled as a daybed, rested against the wall opposite the front door. Next to the door was a gun rack that held several muskets. In a world without modern communication, there was little to do with one's time, especially in the cold winter days, so the family spent most of their time reading.
As they sat at the table, everyone became silent so Taylor could say grace. The handsome deputy sheriff of Orange County, who was also a captain in the North Carolina militia, said, "Creator of the heavens and the earth, we thank Thee for this food we are about to eat and we ask that Thou would bless it for the nourishment of our bodies. Please, bless the hands that prepared it ..." The prayer was interrupted by a loud crash and a rattling sound outside. Boots, the big stray dog with an unfriendly disposition, that had suddenly appeared on the porch one day and stayed, ran out from under the table and began barking ferociously. Taylor jumped from the table and ran toward the door, grabbing his flintlock rifle from the gun rack. As he opened the door, he found himself staring directly into the face of a large black bear that had just knocked over a barrel of walnuts the boys had gathered for the winter. The startled bear jumped from the porch and ran into the woods as quickly as it could, with Boots chasing behind him. Taylor fired a shot in the air to ensure that the bear would continue running and not turn back.
Dicey, Washington's mother, stood up from the table and walked over to the door. She watched the bear disappear into the woods. "I think you scared the bear more than he scared you."
"Did you hit it?" asked Washington who walked over and looked out the door his father was closing.
"No, son," Taylor replied.
"Why not?" Washington asked with a puzzled expression.
"Because the bear didn't hurt us. He was just looking for food," Taylor said.
"Was it a grizzly bear?" asked Washington's older sister Mary, fearfully.
"No, it was a black bear. The grizzlies are the ones you need to watch out for the most," said Taylor, "but you should try to avoid all bears. Even a black bear can attack if it feels threatened."
This was the wilderness where the Duke family lived. Wild animals were commonplace. Some, such as the rattlesnake, the copperhead, the cottonmouth, the mountain lion, and the bear, were very dangerous, and one needed to exercise caution when going into the woods that surrounded the house.
Washington Duke, son of Taylor Duke and Dicey Jones Duke, was born on December 18, 1820, in Orange County, North Carolina, on his family's farm, which was located twelve miles from a small town called Hillsboro. Washington was very close to his older brother Billy. They would often go into the woods to explore for hours at a time. He was fascinated by wild animals and insects and would study them for hours, asking Billy as many questions as he could contrive, while trying to learn about the animal world. Early in the spring of 1827, on a warm afternoon, Washington and Billy were walking in the woods near a creek that ran near their farm. As they walked, Washington could smell the fresh air and the wonderful aroma of the green forest plants dancing in the wind after a warm rain. He noticed how bright the leaves on the trees seemed with the sun glistening off their wet surfaces. They came to the edge of the creek and sat on a large rock, allowing their feet to dangle in the water. Washington was sitting to the left side of Billy. The clear water flowed quietly over the rocks, making a whispering sound. This was a wonderful time for Washington. He loved these times with Billy.
Suddenly Billy said, "G. W., don't move. Hold perfectly still."
Washington became afraid but followed his brother's instruction. Then he saw something that terrified him. A large rattlesnake was slithering out from under the rock on which they were sitting and creeping toward Washington's left side. Billy whispered, "Just hold still. It will be okay."
Terrified, Washington said nothing and moved only his eyes to see the snake better. The rattlesnake locked its eyes on Washington and coiled as if to strike. The snake's stillness, just inches from Washington's left leg, felt menacing. He wondered if he was going to die but trusted his brother and followed his instructions, remaining frozen on the rock.
Billy also remained frozen. The rattlesnake did not move except to wag its split tongue and occasionally shake its rattles while staring at Washington. The sound of the snake's rattles was deafening. After about five minutes, seeing the terrified expression on Washington's face, Billy began to pray softly. "Dear Lord, please protect us from this rattler. You created this creature, you can tell the creature to leave. And please don't let G. W. be afraid."
After what seemed to be an eternity, the rattlesnake slowly began to move away toward the water and then suddenly changed its direction and came back toward Washington. The snake slid under his legs and back under the rock, rubbing against his bare ankles as it passed. Washington could see the bright diamond-shaped markings on the back of the snake. Finally, the rattler disappeared under the rock. When he felt it was safe, Billy slowly lifted his feet out of the water and climbed on top of the rock; he then reached down and lifted Washington up on top of the rock. They looked around to make sure the snake had not come out on the other side. When they were sure it was safe, they jumped from the rock and ran up the hill, away from the water.
"Why did that snake stare at me like that?" Washington asked.
"It is hard for snakes to see objects that aren't moving, and they rely upon heat to detect the presence of a person or an animal. Since it's warm out today, he probably didn't know for sure if you were there, and if he did, he didn't even know what you were."
"I was so scared. I thought he was going to bite me. How do you know if a snake has poison?"
"Most the snakes around here that have poison have a head shaped like an arrowhead. If it is far away, you should walk away, but if it is really close, you should hold still like we did a little while ago. God spared us today. We could have been killed."
Still nervous from the incident, Billy picked up Washington and carried him in his arms until they were out of the woods. They didn't return to the woods for several days, and when they did, Washington carried a large stick. "I want to be ready if we see another snake," he told Billy.
Washington would often go outside and play for hours. On these occasions he sometimes came in contact with wild animals. The animals seemed to recognize his gentle spirit and were not usually afraid of him. It was common for other members of the household to come outside and see Washington playing with a raccoon or another undomesticated animal. One day, Dicey went out of the front door of the house only to find Washington playing with a skunk.
Remaining calm and quiet, Dicey said, "Don't make any quick movements or any loud sounds, G. W. You are playing with a baby skunk."
His mother's words startled Washington, who remembered the time his brother had told him not to move to avoid being bitten by the rattlesnake. Washington became afraid. He had seen skunks before but did not know that a skunk could be dangerous. Then he concluded that there was no serious danger since his mother did not seem alarmed, as his brother had seemed when they saw the snake.
A neighbor, Mr. Parker, who had been waiting in the house for Taylor to come home, heard Dicey's comment and came out to see what was happening. Dicey whispered, "He is playing with a skunk. I don't know if he even knows what it can do."
Mr. Parker laughed. "Oh, that's nothin' to worry about. That one's a baby. His scent glands ain't developed at that age. He can't spray."
They watched for a while. Washington held the skunk like a baby, rocking it in his arms as he had seen his mother do with babies. He touched its nose with his finger and allowed the skunk to lick his fingers.
Washington admired the pretty features of the animal. He liked the sharp contrast between the black and white stripes. He stood up and carried the skunk toward the house so his mother could see it.
"Don't bring it inside," said Dicey. She looked at Mr. Parker. "I know you said he can't spray, but I don't want it to get used to coming around here."
Mr. Parker nodded. "Actually, it might not be a bad idea if I took it away from here and into the woods before it gets accustomed to your yard. He might come around all the time when it gets older. Also, his mother might come looking for him."
"You don't mind? I would really appreciate it," Dicey said.
"Naw, I don't mind."
"Washington, it's time to come in," Dicey said. "Mr. Parker has to take your friend back into the woods."
"But I am playing with him," Washington protested.
"No, you have to come in now."
"Okay," Washington said with a disappointed expression as he sat the skunk on the ground.
Mr. Parker walked over and picked up the skunk and began carrying it into the woods.
"Thanks so much," Dicey said.
"No problem," Mr. Parker replied.
Dicey went back inside and then heard a loud yell from Mr. Parker which was followed by the sweet, putrid aroma of a skunk. She opened the door to see Mr. Parker standing about forty feet from the house, holding his arms up in the air. His shirt looked wet. "Oh!" he shouted.
"What happened?" Dicey asked.
Mr. Parker replied, "I reckon that skunk ain't as young as I thought."
Washington could see the skunk walking away from Mr. Parker toward the woods. "What happened?" he asked.
Dicey put her hand over her mouth so Mr. Parker could not see her giggling. Then she said, "I have some canned tomatoes you can take with you. They are good for getting the smell of skunk off you."
Finally, Mr. Parker put his hands down, shook his head, and began laughing. "Well, I guess maybe I had that coming. Tomatoes help, but they won't completely kill the odor. You won't be seeing me in church for a few weeks."
Washington asked again, "What happened, Mammy?"
"I will tell you in a little while," Dicey replied as she went in the house to get the canned tomatoes.
Mr. Parker said, "There's a good lesson here for you, G. W. Don't ever think you know everything, because just about the time you think you do, you find out the hard way that you don't."
Dicey carried the jars of tomatoes toward Mr. Parker and set them on the ground about twenty feet from him as she held a white handkerchief over her nose and mouth. She laughed. "Nothing personal, but I think this is as close as I am going to get."
Excerpted from The Duke Legacy by D.W. Duke. Copyright © 2014 D.W. Duke. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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