Focuses on the Williamsburg inhabitants whose lives are caught up in the tumult, intrigue, and violence of the Revolutionary War
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About the Author
Elswyth Thane (1900–1984) was the author of over thirty books of fiction and nonfiction.Leila Meacham is the bestselling author of Roses, Tumbleweeds, Somerset, and Titans, among others.
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Dawn's Early Light
By Elswyth Thane
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 1943 Elswyth Thane
All rights reserved.
He stood remote and alone amid the cheerful bustle of the dock at Yorktown. Around his feet in their silver-buckled shoes was stacked enough luggage for two men. Behind him rose the proud, sharp prow and slender spars of the Mary Jones, which had brought him across the Atlantic from Southampton.
The hot Virginia sun was in his eyes below the point of his tricorne. He wore his own brown hair unpowdered and tied with a black ribbon notched into swallow-tails. His blue broadcloth coat and knee breeches were London-cut, making the most of his rather overgrown height, his narrow waist and straight back. A black cloak lined with silk was folded over his arm. He would have, if he ever filled out a bit, an excellent leg. It was his twenty-first birthday.
Patiently in the pelting sunlight he surveyed the ambling colored longshoremen who threw ropes to one another, or passed heavy boxes from hand to hand in a sweating chain, or toiled past him under towering bales of goods, while good-natured white men bawled orders at them. To look at him, one would never have guessed at the hollowness of his inside.
He was not new to travel. He had seen Rome and Berlin and Paris and Vienna — to say nothing of Edinburgh, Bath, and his native London. The noise and excitement of a ship's arrival in port were familiar to him. Since childhood he was accustomed to see strange sights and smell strange odors and hear strange speech. But now, at the beginning of a new year in his life, he stood on the threshold of a new continent — quite alone. He felt the way he had felt on his first day as a scholar at Winchester. He felt the necessity of a stiff upper lip.
Finally a man a little older than himself, with a thin, sunbrowned face, approached him through the confusion.
"You must be Julian Day," he said, and the tall boy bowed. "I have been wasting my time trying to find the captain to introduce me. I'm Sprague, from Mr. Wythe's law office in Williamsburg. Mr. Wythe did me the honor to send me down to welcome you and your father to Virginia."
"That is very kind. My father died at sea." The simple words fell gently into the clamor all about them.
Young Mr. Sprague's sympathy sprang quick and sincere.
"My dear fellow," he said, and set his hand briefly on the dark blue sleeve.
"They read a service and put him over the side three days ago."
"I'm sorry, I — can't seem to think of the right thing to say," Sprague confessed in genuine distress. "But perhaps the best thing I can do is to get you away from here at once. I've got a coach waiting, and I have engaged rooms for you at Williamsburg. That is —" He tripped on his own words, and his honest eyes were anxious. "That is, now that you are here, you will, of course, come on to Williamsburg?"
"I suppose so," said Julian Day. "I don't mean to sound ungracious, I just —" He made a little gesture with his empty hands. "— I just seem to have no plans!" The hot, overpowering scent of tar and tobacco and bilge and Negro beat upward from the baking planks under his feet. The hot southern sunlight beat down on his unprotected head. He turned rather white around the mouth, and felt Sprague's hand laid again on his sleeve.
"My dear fellow, anything in the world I can do — And I am sure Mr. Wythe will be most distressed to hear — and the people at the College too, of course —" He broke off to beckon to a young colored giant in livery who waited near by. "Joshua, put Mr. Day's boxes into the wagon," he said, and with his hand still under Julian's elbow moved down the dock towards the coach which stood in the road at the end.
"I shall have to decide something very soon," Julian resumed more steadily as they rolled away from the dockside followed by the baggage wagon, and took the road which led through the little town and along the shore towards the capital. "The Mary Jones sails again for Plymouth in a fortnight's time, and I —"
"Oh, come, now, Mr. Day, give us a chance!" cried Sprague. "You might like it here! Look!" He gestured through the coach window.
The glass was down, and hot dust rose from the horses' feet and settled in a fine powder on Julian's dark coat. Gripping the leathern strap which hung beside the window, he looked out into the glare with his grave, unrevealing gaze. The road ran along a high bank above the broad bosom of the river, whose surface was spiky with the masts of many ships.
"It is very — big," he said inadequately, and Sprague gave a shout of laughter.
"Of course it's big, man, it's America! It's so big we aren't quite sure where it ends! Think of it — Virginia has no western boundary line!"
"But — surely there are maps," Julian began. "I saw several maps in London —"
"Guesswork!" Sprague waved them aside. "West of the Cumberlands — all guesswork!"
"Yes, I suppose it must be," Julian agreed, and sat a moment watching the forest which now obscured the river for a space. West of the Cumberlands — boundless forest, boundless frontier, peopled by savages, bristling with unthinkable dangers, dreary with hardships impossible to conceive. And here on the fringes of that unpenetrated wilderness, along the great tidewater rivers, a precarious civilization hanging on by its eyelashes, only recently beginning to be sure that it would not be wiped out between sunset and dawn, only in the last generation able to feel secure in itself from one season to the next. How long, really, since the beat of Indian war drums had been heard in the very streets of the capital, he wondered. Something that was not fear, as fear, something that had little to do with his own personal safety, ran like a chill flame Along his spine — a sense of the awful vastness to the west, crisping all his nerves. They weren't even sure where it ended. Thousands of miles of wilderness overhung him as though for a moment the continent had been stood on edge above his head. ... "About the lodging you have found for me," he heard himself saying, "the fact is, we had very little money left after we had bought our passage. My father expected — that is, we thought that with his post at the College assured — The fact is," he said again, "I shall have to find some way of earning my passage home before I can go."
"And a good thing too!" said Sprague. "By that time you may decide to stay here — like me."
"You weren't born here?" Julian queried in surprise.
"I was born in England. But I shall take great care to die here, when that time comes." Sprague's merry brown face was suddenly brooding and grave. "Man, America is the greatest thing that has happened to England since we beat the Spanish under Elizabeth! The New World! Do you comprehend those words? A new world, just for the taking, and enough of it for everybody! You have only to stretch out your hand —" His lean brown fingers closed on the dust-filled air. "— grasp — and hold!"
"There is certainly enough of it!" agreed Julian, dazed.
For twelve miles they drove through the forest, leaving the gleam of the river behind them. Though Sprague was anything but homesick, he craved news of London nonetheless. Was the King really a little mad? Well, but one did hear rumors, didn't one! And what was the true story behind Amherst's refusal to accept the governorship of Virginia? His wife's objections, they said! Ah, women! Amherst would have been a good man for the post. Not that one would say anything against the present Governor, of course, Dunmore was merely the most obstinate, tactless, narrow-minded ass the colony had had to put up with since old Lord Berkeley a hundred years ago! One heard that Chatham was rusticating in the country again with Garrick and his cronies — was the old gentleman really done this time, or would he rally again? Nobody in England appreciated Chatham, least of all the King. And what about that new singer from Bath — Elizabeth Linley — was she as lovely as they said? Married! To the fellow who fought that duel over her? Two duels! Well, perhaps he had earned his luck....
Julian answered questions as best he could, wondering at Sprague's intimate knowledge of London gossip, even though in London it was already months old. Diffidently he admitted to acquaintanceship with Dick Sheridan, who had married the superb Miss Linley. Yes, as a matter of fact he had attended the same fencing school at Carlisle House — well, yes, he had crossed swords with Sheridan there more than once, under Angelo's critical eye — yes, Sheridan was a good swordsman, but impetuous, that second affair with Matthews over Elizabeth Linley had ended as just a hacking match with broken swords — yes, one of the duels had actually been fought by candlelight in a locked room — no, romance was apparently not dead, after all....
Sprague's eager questions and easy laughter, the whole vital, youthful quality of the man, left Julian feeling somewhat old and staid and bewildered. Yet it was not as though Sprague had himself no knowledge of pain, for his compassion came warm and quick to another's sorrow. What a friend, Julian found himself thinking, what a friend to have at one's back these days! His itinerant boyhood, spent at the heels of a scholarly father always in pursuit of further learning abroad, had left him rather empty of friendships hitherto. Always one moved on. And now, at the back of beyond, one came upon this man Sprague, who in some mysterious way made one feel less alone in the world....
Before he realized that they had emerged from the forest, the coach swung around a corner and into a broad tree-lined avenue, straight as a Roman road as far as the eye travelled ahead. Low, comfortable-looking white houses sat well back in green lawns behind neat paling fences, with now and then a rosy brick dwelling among them. There were gardens in early flower, and clipped box hedges. The arching branches of the mulberry trees nearly met overhead, their knobby trunks in cool shadow. Every wheel, every footfall, stirred the deep dust of the sandy road, and dust lay thick on the green leaves and powdered the grass.
At that hour of late afternoon the town was busy, and Julian received a swift impression of prosperous shops, liveried black servants ambling about their errands, a fashionable carriage or two with the gleam of silk and jewels inside, and fine saddle horses with well-dressed riders.
"That was the Capitol," said Sprague, for the square brick building with its white columns was already behind them. "The Raleigh Tavern will be on your right —" He leaned across Julian to hang out of the coach window. "By Jove, there is a crowd at the Raleigh! That means more news. We heard yesterday that the Port of Boston is to be closed on June first, and British troops are encamped on the Common." He turned suddenly, fixing his level, uncompromising gaze on Julian's face. "Just where do you stand?" he inquired, and added belatedly, "if you don't mind my asking."
"Well, I —" Julian began, rather at a loss.
"You have heard, I suppose, about Boston's dumping all that tea into the harbor?"
"Yes — we heard about that before I left London."
"Well?" queried Sprague, watching him.
"We thought it was a pity in a way, as it seemed a needless affront to the Government. It must have been the work of a gang of ruffians. Nobody believes they were really Indians, you know."
"Of course they weren't Indians, they only wore paint and feathers as a disguise!" There was a brief silence. Then Sprague said, "You are bound to be a Tory, of course, with your background."
"You mean you personally subscribe to that Boston affair?"
"We can be pushed just so far," said Sprague darkly, closing it. "There is the Palace — it's quite a sight on Birthday Nights and Christmas and anniversaries, whenever the Governor gives a state ball — then the trees on the Green are hung with colored lanterns, and there are fireworks and free wine for the townsfolk. The Governor lives like a king, with a country estate he calls Porto Bello up beyond Queen's Creek — thinks nothing of forty to dinner — has his own coat of arms on a china dinner service, and six white horses to his coach!"
Julian leaned forward to look up the long Green which lay in front of the Governor's town residence — another square brick building with a tall white cupola and white dormers in the third story, a balcony above the door where the Governor could take his vice-regal bows, and imposing ironwork gates.
"That's very handsome," he said, impressed. "I had no idea. You say he is not popular?"
"He has a genius for putting people against him, from the Burgesses down. It was unfortunate, of course, that a man like Dunmore should have had to succeed Governor Botetourt, whom everybody liked. If Botetourt had lived — well, who knows? There is the church. They are very proud of the organ, be sure to admire it. And here you are — your landlady is a widow named Hartley, and rather a dear. She intends to mother you, so don't stand on ceremony — especially now that your father —"
They had turned another corner, to the right off the main avenue, and halted before a white house with green shutters and a graceful pillared doorway. Julian descended from the coach and looked about him with approval.
"Why, this is charming," he said. "There is even a garden."
"What did you expect, man, a circle of huts inside a stockade?"
"But there was a stockade," said Julian, as though glancing about for it.
"There was, when the Duke of Gloucester Street was a cow-path! The College is at the further end. We will walk up there this evening if you like."
The white panelled door with its shining brass knocker was opened to them by a fresh-faced woman in sprigged muslin, over which she wore a snowy apron and fichu, She welcomed them cordially and drew them into a square hall from which an oak stair angled upward. As Joshua and the colored lad who drove the wagon carried in Julian's boxes a trim black maid appeared to show them the way up stairs.
My father died at sea. Once more Julian said those five dreadful words, and Mrs. Hartley's sympathy was indeed motherly and tactful and comforting. Then Sprague accompanied him to his room where the luggage awaited him, and the smiling colored girl came in with a jug of hot water and clean towels which smelt of lavender and sunshine.
"Is that girl a slave?" asked Julian, when she had gone.
"She is. Would you prefer to be waited on by a bondservant whose skin is the same color as yours?"
"A bondmaid has at least the prospect of freedom," Julian reminded him.
"And of very little else as things are! We have had a rise in the slave trade lately. And with slave labor increasing, it is difficult for a bondservant who has worked out his time to find work to live by. That is the real evil of slavery, Mr. Day, and not man's inhumanity to man."
"I don't think I have a prejudice against slavery," Julian denied with a certain stateliness. "Doubtless out here one becomes accustomed to it. So long as they are well-treated," he added, and Sprague laughed.
"My dear fellow, we don't work them in galleys, you know! The second generation of blacks, born here, are very well off indeed, for the most part. The voyage out from Africa of the wild Negroes doesn't bear thinking about, of course."
"No, I suppose it doesn't," Julian agreed, and began to unpack the portmanteau Joshua had set on the chest at the foot of the four-posted bed. "I was surprised to hear Dr. Franklin say that not one in a hundred families in America owns a slave. One had the impression that it was almost a universal practice."
Sprague gazed at him from the window-seat with a mixture of awe and delight.
"You have heard Dr. Franklin?" he exclaimed. "In London?"
"Why, yes, and in Edinburgh. He and my father were friends. It was Dr. Franklin who was really responsible for our coming to Virginia. He got my father the post at the College here. He says there should be no politics and no national frontiers in learning. There is a man at Harvard who thinks the same way. My father wanted to make of himself a sort of link between the College of William and Mary and the universities at home, in the hope of a better understanding —" He turned away suddenly towards the wardrobe, and hung up a coat with care.
"Did you see Dr. Franklin often?" queried Sprague after a moment.
"Fairly often. There is a sort of club that meets every other Thursday at the coffee house in Ludgate Hill. I hadn't really any right to be there, of course, but my father always took me, and nobody objected, so I — sat and listened."
"There is something rather like that here too," said Sprague. "In the Apollo Room at the Raleigh. Tom Jefferson lets me go with him sometimes. You must meet Jefferson. He went straight into Mr. Wythe's law office out of the College, and they are old friends. They will all be glad to get hold of a man who has seen Dr. Franklin lately, we think very highly of him out here."
Excerpted from Dawn's Early Light by Elswyth Thane. Copyright © 1943 Elswyth Thane. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsI WILLIAMSBURG NECK. 1774–1779,
II THE CAROLINAS. 1780,
III VIRGINIA. 1781,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After not studying early American History for many years, I visited Williamsburg recently. One of the interpreters there recommended this series of books, especially Dawn's Early Light. After starting the book, I found it very hard to put down. I could imagine Julian and Tibby walking down the streets and talking, just as Washington or Jefferson came walking towards them. It gave me new insight into the American Revolution and the difficulties our nation faced in its beginnings. If you want to find yourself transported to a different time and era, read this book!!!
I first read this book in the 70s, but have reread it over the years. This summer I finally visited Williamsburg and could just imagine Julian and Tibby standing outside the Raleigh Tavern--perhaps as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson came out! The love story is precious and the history very informative.
If you have ever imagined what it would be like to chat with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, or ever wondered what kind of personalities they might have had, this book will make you feel like you have visited them. You can get swept away with the description of walking down the streets of colonial Williamsburg in this book, and it will make you feel transported back in time to our nations earliest days. Since I have visited Williamsburg, this book makes it even better just thinking of what occurred there! Very entertaining, along with educational in a fictional sort of way. I couldn't put it down. I encourage you to try it!!
I have read this series several times and was happy to see it available for nook readers. I hope the other volumes become available too, but the formatting and spelling issues have to be fixed. If i hadnt been familiar with the book i might not have continued reading it. The story combines history of williamsburg area and people before and during the revolutionary war. The author sets the scene, describing the towns, people, changing attitudes toward king and independence and progression of the war. She writes concisely but beautifully. Great book but fix the problems with formatting and spelling,
Line spacing is all messed up on Nook version, making it unreadable. Another sign that no effort went into the creation of the e-book version is that the cover is the default Calibre software page. Even $2.99 is too much for a poorly formatted book.
This is a wonderful and engaging read! Please make the rest of the series avaiable for purchase. Our book club would be so grateful!
Story gets 5 stars; this paperback edition gets 2 because it is rife with spelling and text errors. You can make out the words based on context, but it's pretty distracting. I believe the publisher scanned the original edition into Adobe Acrobat Pro in order to format the text; when this program does not recognize a word based on the printed text, it will "guess" what it is supposed to say. This has resulted in "Julian" appearing as "Ju Han," "Jullan," etc, among other errors. Like I said, good story, but the errors are a little distracting and pretty unprofessional.
Why isn't this on the Nook? One of the many wonderful books on Kindle but not available on the Nook......
I read the Williamsburg Series many years ago and I was delighted to find that it is available again. I gave two friends copies of Dawn's Early Light as Christmas presents. They have read them and are moving on to Yankee Stranger.
For those that love historical fiction books, this book was great! The author really does well with developing the characters. At the end of the book, I actually found myself smiling. The book was slow at times, but in the end, it was worth it.