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A Preview of Disaster; The Last Battle, August 1782
"The men who fought in the Battle of Blue Licks were as well qualified from experience to face the Indians as any body of men that were ever collected."
Captain Robert Patterson, Fayette County Militia
"... burn't 3 Houses which was part of the Fort but the Wind being contrary prevented it having the desired effect, kill'd upwards of 300 Hogs, 150 head of Cattle, and a number of Sheep, took a number of Horses, pull'd up and destroyed their Potatoes, cut down a great deal of their Corn, burn't their Hemp and did other considerable damage ..."
Report by Captain William Caldwell, Butler's Rangers, Commander of British and Allied forces at the Battle of Blue Licks
Brigadier-General Sir Thomas Smithyman knew that the relentless, candle-melting Montreal summer was the very least of his worries – his soldiers were not going to freeze to death from lack of firewood, for instance – and there was almost nothing he could do about it, in any case. But the accumulating weight of it, day after endless day, was making him incapable of rational thought – as shatterbrain'd as any village idiot! Salty sweat irritated him, running down his face to sting his eyes and into the corners of his mouth. If he didn't mop it off regularly, the drops threatened to splotch and ruin his correspondence to the Governor. The invasive heat had besieged the town in a dome so hot that he now half-expected to see people dying from the yellow fever in the streets, as if it were Cartagena or Jamaica. It had bullied its way to occupy the front of his mind and now sometimes seemed to be the only thing that mattered. Even the damp, bone-penetrating cold of London during the previous winter had not affected him as badly as this.
Alone in his office, he hated to admit that he was feeling sorry for himself. It felt too much like admitting failure. 1782 was the seventh year of the American war. It had not gone well, especially for those who had remained loyal American subjects of His Britannic Majesty, George III.
"Holy old bald-headed monkeys!" he blasphemed out loud. Sighing in exasperation, for the third time this morning he tossed aside a badly cut quill for his orderly to remove.
Apparently the Army cannot even find me a clerk competent enough to cut a decent pen! Johannes knew how to do this properly. Why in God's Holy Name did I ever let him go off to bloody, damned Fort Niagara?
He did not pick up a fourth pen, but sat, lost in thought and sweating.
In spite of his best efforts, Sir Thomas could not keep his mind from wandering into daydreams about his childhood, growing up half-wild in the freewheeling atmosphere of his father's vast estate on the northwest frontier of British New York. Forced reluctantly into exile to avoid arrest and imprisonment as a Tory, at the age of thirty-four he was now feeling careworn, and often found his thoughts straying back to better days. Some of his fondest memories, apart from a couple of long-lost loves, included racing his imported horses at father's always-riotous "games days" or in the annual Albany fairs. The tormenting thought often intruded that some ignorant Continental Army officer, perhaps even Appelbaum himself, was now abusing his beloved chestnut, Scimitar. Those had been wonderful days – a vanished Eden – even if it was just the thrill of poring over newly arrived copies of the Racing Calendar. It never mattered that they were outdated by as much as a year before reaching Smithyman Hall. This Monday morning, August 19, Sir Thomas continued to make feeble and largely unsuccessful attempts to push such sweet memories aside. He wondered for the thousandth time if his present existence was a comeuppance for his previous happiness.
The repetitive mental cruelty of British Army paperwork certainly constituted a form of Sisyphean punishment. But Sir Thomas's suffering was compounded, on this and most recent mornings, by a variety of additional burdens, including the heat. Montreal often saw late summer heat waves, but this one had been unbroken even by a long-hoped-for thunderstorm. They had just sweltered through another airless and, for Thomas and many others, sleepless Sunday night, followed by the third cloudless Monday morning in a row. The sky remained stubbornly veiled in a thick, watery, grey haze.
More abstract than the weather, but even more oppressive for American Loyalists like Sir Thomas and his wife, Nancy, the Revolutionary War was winding down to its dismal, final curtain. They both easily endured simple physical hardship and deprivation, having done so many times since the outbreak of fighting so long ago. That was inconsequential. Forced inactivity, though – especially in the face of impending catastrophe – felt like the creeping paralysis of a living death. It made them both frantic. Sir Thomas was commander of the volunteer regiment he had financed on credit since '76 – two battalions raised from his former tenants and friends – and he yearned with all his heart to get back into some kind of action to help him forget the terrible course of history. But, blow coming upon major blow, recent news had pitilessly lashed the Smithymans.
Cornwallis had surrendered his army at Yorktown the previous October. Then, Lord North's wartime Government in London had fallen in March. Peace negotiations with the rebel Americans were underway in Paris. And this steamy morning's garrison routine remained as tedious and soul-destroying as ever. Sir Thomas willed himself to stare at the army clerk's fair copy of his 300th or so weekly regimental report, which he had scribbled out last Saturday. His own handwriting had always been execrable, albeit mostly legible. As a youth, he had been a poor, easily-distracted student with an indulgent (up to a point) and powerful father, but in this life he had to ensure that Spencer had copied it letter-perfect, for it would shortly come to the exacting attention of Sir Thomas's superior officer, Swiss-born General Frederick Haldimand, Military Governor of Quebec.
How has my life come down to meticulously executing such boring, useless work?
Even the miserable frustrations of having to handle covert, delicate, discussions with self-important, hotheaded popinjays like the Vermont Allens, on the vanishingly faint hope they would bring their territories back to the King, was more interesting. Or directing the intricate American spy network Haldimand had asked him to set up in 1778. Sir Thomas was also the Crown's Superintendent and Inspector General of the Six Nations Indians and those in the Province of Quebec. Like his father, he very much enjoyed their company, not least because his loving, fierce stepmother Laura Silverbirch and her warrior brother Matthew were themselves Mohawk. A council with their people would be stimulating, at least, complaints and all! Instead of such things, he bent his head to his duty, and read his report back from his clerk's neatly scripted version.
Your Excellency, I beg to inform you that the local units of the Queen's Royal Regiment of New York which I have the honor to command have been fully employed this past week in ...
Some days were much worse than others. Today, he could hardly stand it. He set the page down on a stack of others, rose and strode heavily to the open windows of his office, the heels of his polished high boots resonating on the maple plank floor. He leaned outward against the sill, attempting to find some scrap of breeze, and closed his eyes against the heat. Six years of war had passed since he had last seen the luxurious interior of Smithyman Hall, his beloved Mohawk Valley inheritance, every room of it marked by the luxury, grace and style that had been his father's hallmarks, even on the frontier. His own beautiful horses were gone, stolen by his enemies. His former racing stables now sheltered pigs and chickens, and the lopsided, spavined, sickly, underfed nags owned by the dregs of the so-called officers of Washington's so-called Continental Army. His ancient oaks and beeches felled for firewood. Reports said the elegant, gleaming, curving central staircase balustrade had been spitefully hacked and gouged, disfigured by patriot officers' swords and blamed, with their usual sly dishonesty, on the Mohawks. Sir Thomas had snorted in derision when he heard that – the liars blamed everything they could on the Indians. As if the native people would deliberately scar the treasured home of their most trusted friends and family. It was ludicrous! Smithyman Hall was a place where Indians had always been respected and gifted, housed and fed. There they had gathered around Sir William's Council Fire – the only one outside their homeland in Iroquoia – by the hundreds, even thousands, for a quarter of a century. Until the rebel vandals came. Smithyman Hall's peacocks, that his wife and sister and Mohawk stepmother cherished, slaughtered with bayonets to befeather Yankee Doodle Dandy's hats! It made him want to spit. As he often did since his father's death, Sir Thomas spoke in his mind to Sir William, who had also known the hardships of battle and the challenges of diplomacy, who had arrived on the frontier from Ireland with almost nothing and who had worked his way to a fortune.
I was a disappointing son, I know it, Father. But I have paid. Believe me, I have paid. My little boy is dead. Nancy had to flee Albany in winter with him and so he never got a chance. And how can I rid myself of the blame for letting her leave the children behind and to come with me through those filthy battlefield camps the next year, when we all were so foolish as to think we would be going home victorious? I cannot even mourn him without driving her into fresh anguish. I fear she'll never get over it. Nancy's brother Samuel lost his leg and nearly his life at bloody Oriskany. What will he do now? How can I help him, when everything I own has been confiscated? My half-brother, Adam, killed there, too, under my command. Having to tell mother of his loss was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. So many of our friends dead, at the hands of neighbors turned rabid, or exiled from all they held dear, as Nancy's father was from New York.
Thomas had been staring southward through the window, towards the invisible, far-away Adirondack Mountains, that had once been home. His eyes dropped to the stone-hard, dusty streets below, where a few drooping horses clopped heavily along, driven by equally oppressed-looking wagoners. He turned and dropped heavily back into his chair. Six years of the most dreadful blood and suffering. All of it wasted in a futile attempt simply to get his country and his lovely manor home back. And it had all come down to this. He added some purely mental editorial content to his report to Haldimand.
... ditch-digging, cutting God-damned firewood for the regular army and guarding treasonous American prisoners who so richly deserve to be turned over to the tender mercies of the Mohawks. Making me the chief digger, head woodchopper and senior gaolkeeper.
He had been forced to remove his heavy scarlet uniform coat early that morning, but he continued to drip, and kept the paperwork at arm's length to avoid blotching the sentences. Grinding his teeth, he carefully finished reading his report and the other letters and scratched his spiky, cramped signature at the bottom of each of them, then recalled his clerk.
"Spencer, put my seal on those and get 'em to His Excellency today, without fail," he growled, "or you'll find yourself living on Prisoners' Island guarding the stinking Yankees! Inform Major Crowell that I do not wish to be disturbed for an hour. And kindly shut the door behind you, Corporal."
He stood and walked across the floor to stare glumly out once more across the heat-shimmering rooftops of Montreal. He regretted granting Johannes leave to join Butler's Rangers, even temporarily, in a fit of generosity after he had returned from London with his promotion to Brigadier-General. The man was a brilliant secretary and bookkeeper. Sir Thomas had never had to check the dot of every "i" and the cross of every "t" of Johannes' work like he did this Spencer's, and neither had his father. He mopped his brow with a sopping linen handkerchief, for all the good it did. He even found himself envying his uncle Johannes for a moment. These were unworthy thoughts, he knew.
Johannes Pfalz was an orphan refugee and former indentured servant from Germany. Billy had married his older sister, Katrina, who became Thomas and his sister Anna Christine's mother. She had died giving Thomas life. Billy had mourned her deeply, but he was the sort of man who strongly desired the company of women, and he had quickly remarried, to Mohawk princess Laura Silverbirch, who had then raised Katrina's children and several of her own by Billy, with great love and devotion. At present, Uncle Johannes' own wife and children were barricaded safely in New York, the last loyal British enclave in the former colonies that now called themselves the United States of America. His stepmother and his Mohawk uncle Matthew were in the west, helping to keep the King's Iroquois allies on side.
Johannes was also somewhere out west, and probably still killing rebels. Thomas wished he were back in the fighting, too, and to hell with this command! His rank and positions now seemed merely crutches to help him endure the excruciating dénouement of a war that others had lost. Bile rose in his throat every time he thought about the arrogance and ignorance of most British officers, deliberately deaf to the advice of seasoned frontier warriors like himself and flat-out horrified by even little bands of war painted native bogeymen. Thomas shook his head wryly, realizing he was thinking about redcoats much the same way those Boston Tea Partiers did – and he was a redcoat – knighted by the King! In fact, though, like his troops, he'd much preferred the forest green coats General Carleton had first approved for his regiment in 1776, when Sir Thomas and the 200 stalwarts who would become his first Royal Yorkers had staggered out of the forest near Montreal, starving from their three-week wilderness trek across the mountains to join the British. Most of all, he wished he were back with Scimitar, riding and hunting in the peaceful backwoods. Nancy had always been woman enough to push erotic memories of former lovers far into the background, although the war had harmed their relationship too, perhaps irreparably.
But, oh, Father, I remember how proud you were of your own scarlet coat when King George made you a general – how you had it tailored in London, because you could, and trimmed it with as much gold braid as you dared, and how you looked for excuses to wear it and your cocked hat. You said it gave you stature at those big Indian Councils of yours – as if you needed it.
He smiled a bit at that boyhood memory of General Billy Smithyman, but it vanished in the other, newer images of home that flooded in after it. He dreaded returning this evening to Nancy and her – admit it, Thomas – entirely justifiable and highly vocal unhappiness at remaining a refugee. Six, no, it was already seven years ago, she and her family (and his) had basked in near-universal esteem at the pinnacle of New York's glittering colonial society. The events of those years were not his doing or his fault. She knew that too, but still she ranted, dammit! Yes, he was feeling sorry for himself, and it disgusted him. Elsewhere, he knew, men were still fighting a different war, a seemingly more honorable, if similarly pointless war, in the hot summer of 1782.
* * *
More than 700 miles southwest of Montreal, the Licking River murmured and whispered its way around three sides of a pale sandstone hill on the similarly hot and sunny western slope of the Appalachian Mountains. The hill was one of dozens carved out of the Cumberland Plateau by the river's serpentine descent, adding its fair share to the silt the river carried eighty miles northwest, down to the broad, beautiful Ohio River.
A small force of armed men lay quietly near the top of the little hill, a couple of hundred feet above the river. They comprised fragments from a variety of fighting units, although none were regular British army troops. Several dozen of them, including the leader of the raiders, Captain William Caldwell, were members of Butler's Rangers, a regiment composed of refugees loyal to the King who had been driven, on pain of death, from their farms and homes in New York and Pennsylvania. The Rangers wore faded and patched dark green woolen jackets with red facings. They were stained with black powder smoke, sweat, and blood, and adorned with worn, scratched pewter buttons. Grimy white cross-belts, black peaked caps, and woolen breeches that had once been white but were now ragged, greasy and grey-blotched also marked them as seasoned campaign veterans.
Excerpted from "The King's Salt"
Copyright © 2018 David More.
Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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
Chapter 1 A Preview of Disaster; The Last Battle, August 178, 21,
Chapter 2 Liverpool, Nova Scotia, 1777, 21,
Chapter 3 Mohawk Encampment, Fort Niagara, Spring 1778, 32,
Chapter 4 Butler's Rangers Encampment, Fort Niagara, Spring 1778, 42,
Chapter 5 Death and Lies Along the Mohawk, Spring 1778, 47,
Chapter 6 The War Comes to Wyoming Valley, 1778, 53,
Chapter 7 Sullivan's Campaign of Terror, Iroquoia, 1779, 67,
Chapter 8 Rendezvous on Carleton Island November 1779, 80,
Chapter 9 To Salty Sint Eustatius, November/December 1779, 89,
Chapter 10 Diadem A-Hunting, December 1779, 98,
Chapter 11 Burning the Valleys May-November 1780, 109,
Chapter 12 The Burgeoning of Carleton Island December 1781, 135,
Chapter 13 The Grand Tour Comes to Detroit, Autumn 1782, 148,
Chapter 14 A Dreadful Peace, 1783, 163,
Chapter 15 The Beaver Club, Montreal, Winter 1783, 177,
Chapter 16 Starting Over, 1784, 180,
Chapter 17 Adieu to Lake Ontario, November 1784, 192,
Chapter 18 Planting Hate at Smithyman Hall Mohawk River Valley, August 1785, 198,
Chapter 19 Rotten Fruit from the King July 1786, 207,
Chapter 20 The Starving Time, 1788, 215,
Chapter 21 The Ruskin Patent, March 1788, 224,
Chapter 22 Snarlington A-building, 1789, 231,
Chapter 23 Cruel Fortune, 1790-91, 243,
Chapter 24 'We Claim by Conquest' – Wabash River, Ohio Territory November 1791, 253,
Chapter 25 Brotherly Warnings, Grand River December 1792, 263,
Chapter 26 Port and Cigars, Chateau St-Louis, Quebec City, 1793, 277,
Chapter 27 Rumors, Lies, New Rules – Kingston, Upper Canada 1794-5, 285,
Chapter 28 The White Sickness Kingston, 1795, 291,
Chapter 29 Where is Home? Decision Made, 1796, 300,
Chapter 30 The Western Tour – Promises and Serpents 1797, 307,
Chapter 31 Revenge Moves North New Corinth, New York, 1797-8, 316,
Chapter 32 The Captive and the Truth Snarlington, 1798, 328,