Continuing the saga of the Kent family, John Jakes turns his masterful eye to the settlement of the untamed American West. Abraham Kent, the son of Philip Kent and Anne Ware, fought valiantly on the frontier, only to return home to Boston and a life he doesn’t want. Determined not to live in his father’s shadow, Abraham and his young bride join the wave of pioneers carving out farms in the turbulent, dangerous West. But life on the nation’s frontier soon becomes more than their fledgling family can endure. Furthering his reign as the living master of American historical fiction, Jakes unfurls the epic of The Seekers. This ebook features an illustrated biography of John Jakes including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
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The Kent Family Chronicles (Book Three)
By John Jakes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 John Jakes
All rights reserved.
About four o'clock Abraham Kent woke from a fitful sleep and realized he couldn't rest again until the day's action was concluded, in the Legion's favor or otherwise.
His heart beat rapidly as he lay sweating in the tiny tent. He heard muted voices outside, saw a play of flame and shadow on the tent wall. Campfires, burning brightly in the sweltering dark. No attempt had been made to conceal the presence of three thousand men on the north bank of the Maumee River. The Indians already knew that the general who commanded the army of the Fifteen Fires had arrived, and meant to fight. The only question was when.
Abraham had learned the answer to that the preceding evening. Sitting his mare in formation, he'd listened to the reading of the general order that announced a march at daybreak. Men cheered—principally some of the less disciplined Kentucky mounted militia, whose ranks numbered close to fifteen hundred.
On hearing the order, Abraham Kent felt both relief and sharp fear. Relief came from knowing that nearly two years of preparation, marching, fort-building in the wilderness of the Northwest Territory was finally reaching a climax. The general had repeatedly sent messages to the tribes, urging peace and conciliation even as he drove his Legion of the United States deeper into the lands north of the Ohio, constructing stockade after stockade en route. The reply of the tribes to the last message had been equivocal. So the general had let it be known he meant to attack.
Abraham Kent experienced fear on hearing the order because he'd never taken part in an actual engagement; not in all the twenty-four months since he'd arrived in Pittsburgh in response to the recruiting notices in Boston. Those notices declared that the United States was raising a formal army for the first time since the Revolution.
There had been engagements as the American army twisted back and forth across the hostile country, earning the general the name Blacksnake from the Indian spies who watched the army's progress. Earlier in the summer, for example, a Shawnee war party had launched a ferocious attack on newly built Fort Recovery. When it happened Abraham was on duty at the general's base, Fort Greenville, a day's ride south. So he had yet to be blooded.
Today, the twentieth of August 1794, that situation was likely to change.
He crawled out of the tent, his linen shirt and trousers already plastered to his body. For a moment he wondered whether he would see the dawn of the twenty-first.
Scouts had brought reports into the camp beside the river that upwards of two thousand Indians had gathered some seven to ten miles northeast, near the rapids of the Maumee where the British had brazenly erected a fort close to McKee's trading station. Warriors from all the major tribes had come: Blue Jacket's Shawnee, including the young warrior with the fierce reputation, Tecumseh, who had led the unsuccessful attack on Fort Recovery. Little Turtle's Miamis were there. The Wyandots under Tarhe the Crane. Captain Pipe's Delawares. All united to resist the Americans who were bent on taking the Indians' land—
Not a man in the Legion of the United States considered it anything but American land, of course. The vast expanse west of Pennsylvania, east of the Mississippi, north of the Ohio and south of the Lakes had been ceded to the new nation by Britain as part of the peace treaty of 1783. Yet in the following decade, the British continued to maintain their posts in the surrendered territory; kept urging the Indians to demand that the northern border of American expansion remain the Ohio River.
Small expeditionary forces had marched into the Northwest before, to try to settle matters. One, St. Clair's, had met death along the bend of the Wabash tributary where Abraham's commanding general had built Fort Recovery the preceding winter. Yawning and stretching as he walked past the men talking around the campfires, Abraham vividly recalled the stone gray winter's day he had ridden as one of the eight hundred pressing forward to the site of St. Clair's defeat—
In the first drifting snowflakes, he had seen skulls and bones protruding from the frozen ground. As the new fort rose on the site during the early months of 1794, men working the earth dug up and counted the human skulls. Over six hundred of them. Six hundred of General Dicky Butler's soldiers, slaughtered—
Abraham ambled on through the steamy darkness, breathing the acrid wood smoke, listening to the strained, subdued conversations, seeing here and there a surreptitious jug passed, in violation of the general's edict forbidding use of alcohol in camp or on the march. Nineteen years old, the young soldier had wide shoulders and a stocky build; heavy brows and the dark eyes of his parents. He'd also inherited their dark hair, which he never bothered to dress since dashing about on horseback loosened all the powder. He stood five feet ten inches, taller than his father.
Abraham passed the end of an earthwork. Behind it, the general had deposited the army's baggage and wagons, in case they needed to be defended during a retreat. Outside a command tent Abraham saw aides conferring with Captain Zebulon Pike, who'd been put in charge of the rear position. He strode by the circle of lantern light, swatting mosquitoes that deviled his neck, and soon reached the picket lines where the dragoon horses fretted and stamped in the predawn heat.
A sentry thrust out his musket. "Who goes?"
"Cornet Kent. I want to see to my mount."
The sentry saluted the junior officer, stood aside. Abraham ducked between two nervous stallions, found his mare at her tether, ran his hand down her neck, soothing her as if she were human.
"I hope they fed and watered you well, Sprite. You'll need to be lively when the sun's up. They say the Indians have taken positions among some fallen trees destroyed by a storm a long time ago. That'll be hard ground for galloping and jumping, my girl—"
The mare nipped at his caressing hand, but not viciously. Abraham smiled. In two years, he and the mare assigned him at Cincinnati had established a bond between them; the kind of bond infantrymen and other, lesser orders of human beings could never comprehend. Like the other dragoon officers, Abraham talked to his horse frequently. He knew Sprite recognized his voice if not the sense of his words. Now he almost spoke his fear aloud to the animal, almost launched into a monologue concerning the special reason he was apprehensive about the coming battle. He had admitted the reason to few other human beings; he admitted it to himself only with some shame—
Oh, he was a good enough soldier, he supposed. But his motive for enlisting—for making the difficult overland journey to Pittsburgh—had not been purely patriotic. He had no desire for glory in battle, and hence feared combat perhaps more than some officers did—
Noticing the sentry watching him, Abraham kept it all to himself. After one more stroke of Sprite's sweating neck, he turned and made for the river, feeling a steady pressure in his loins.
He was again thankful that his father's business had prospered sufficiently to permit him to go riding on the Common on a fine hired mount when he was growing up. Abraham was likewise thankful that his stepmother had encouraged the lessons in horsemanship. Except for that, he would never have been accepted for the dragoons.
But astride Sprite, and commanded by an excellent officer—a captain with the peculiar name Robert MisCampbell—Abraham knew that in the coming battle, he would be less of a target than those in the four sublegions who advanced on foot with bayonet-tipped muskets. Whether the general's combined infantry and cavalry stood a chance against the untrained but elusively swift tribesmen waiting somewhere up the Maumee, he couldn't say. That made him even more glad that he was going into danger on an animal he loved and trusted.
A trampled patch of corn and the charred smell of a burned Indian lean-to told him he was nearing the shore. He smelled the wet loam of the bottoms, heard night birds crying among the rushes. The stars were lost in a humid haze. He unfastened the buttons of his trousers and started to urinate in the river.
While in this prosaic but somewhat restrictive position, he heard slow footsteps along the bank.
He turned his head, choked back an exclamation as he recognized the man limping out of the darkness, a rangy silhouette against the distant fires.
Faced with the choice of saluting or closing up his trousers, he decided on the latter. Only afterward did he whip up his right hand in the respectful gesture due the tall, somewhat rotund officer whose left boot and pants leg were almost entirely swathed in strips of flannel.
Major General Wayne—admiringly called Mad Anthony ever since his daring seizure of the British fort at Stony Point during the Revolution—rested a hand on the butt of one of the two pistols thrust into his belt and stared at Abraham Kent, whose face all at once felt hotter than ever.
The general, appearing rather bedraggled in his old blue coat, leather sword belt and leg-bandages, smiled at last.
"Cornet Kent. Good evening to you. Good morning, rather."
"Good morning, sir," Abraham managed to say in a reasonably calm voice.
Wayne hobbled toward him; Abraham guessed the general must be close to fifty now. Supposedly his left leg still contained a piece of ball lodged there during the Virginia campaign at the close of the War for Independence. He had been called out of retirement to head the army sent west by President Washington to quell the Indian threat in the Northwest Territory once and for all.
Wayne's men loved him; Abraham was no exception. The Indians dreaded him because it seemed that he was never off guard, never slept, knew everything that transpired for miles around whatever position he happened to be occupying.
In gentle reproof, Wayne said, "I urged my men to get as much sleep as possible, Cornet. All my men."
"Yes, sir, but—well, sir, that's hard, facing an engagement as we are—"
To Abraham's relief, Wayne nodded. "As you can tell from my presence here, I understand perfectly. I hope our red adversaries aren't resting. I know they're not eating," he added with a thin smile.
Abraham knew the meaning of Wayne's last words, of course. The general's stratagem had been the talk of the camp for two days.
Via his scouts, Wayne had let slip word that he intended to fight, knowing full well that, by custom, the Indians would never eat on the morning of a battle. For that reason Wayne had carefully refrained from mentioning exactly when he intended to engage. Thus the enemy had probably taken little or no nourishment for almost forty-eight hours.
Wayne stumped closer. As always, the general's limp reminded Abraham of his father's, the result of a hit by a musket ball at the battle of Monmouth Court House. The general asked, "Did the last pouches of mail from Cincinnati bring any word of your father, Cornet?"
"Yes, sir, I had a letter. He's recovered from the grippe that kept him in bed for a time. His business continues to do well."
"Success evidently runs in the family. Captain MisCampbell informs me you're an exemplary junior officer."
"That's good to hear, sir—thank you for telling me."
Wayne had acknowledged his acquaintance with Abraham's father when Abraham first reached the training camp at Legionville, down the Ohio from Pittsburgh. Part of Abraham's reverence for the general was due to his father having fought beside Mad Anthony in the Revolution. During the retreat after the American defeat at Brandywine Creek, Philip Kent had joined the reckless young officer in a charge against some Hessians harrying the retreat route. And Philip often referred with pride to standing with Wayne a second time at Monmouth Court House.
Wayne stared at the dark-flowing river. "May I ask you a personal question, Cornet?"
"Of course, sir."
"It comes to mind because you are an excellent officer, and because I remember your father so well. Do you intend to make the army a career?"
Abraham hesitated a moment, then decided to answer truthfully. "No, sir. I imagine I'll go back to Boston when the campaign's over."
"Perhaps that will be accomplished by this time tomorrow. There is a very great deal at stake in the next few hours—"
"I'm aware of that, sir."
So was virtually every man in the Legion. The Northwest Ordinance, passed by the Congress in 1787, had wisely promised the creation of new states—no less than three, no more than five—once the territory was pacified and settled. Each new state would be fully equal with those fifteen already established under the country's federal Constitution, which had become law when the ninth of the thirteen original states, New Hampshire, ratified it in 1788. Abraham knew that thousands of settlers were waiting along the eastern seaboard for the chance to start new lives in the western territory. But they were held back by fear of the Indian menace.
Just as important, President Washington had recently sent Chief Justice John Jay to England to attempt to negotiate a new treaty with the King's ministers. The status of the Northwest was one of the points at issue.
Under the peace settlement, the territory unquestionably belonged to America. But if Britain could in effect hold it illegally—hold it by means of Crown agents inciting the tribes in order to prevent an inrush of settlers—Jay could never hope to gain a reconfirmation on paper of America's claim to the land.
Picking up the conversation, Wayne said, "I'm sorry to hear the military will eventually lose your services, Cornet. Still, I'm not entirely surprised. Ever since you enlisted, I have frankly wondered why a young man of your background—your prospects for the future—would risk himself in an enterprise of this sort."
Caught off guard, Abraham replied haltingly, "Someone must if the territory's to be secured—"
"Oh, I'm not questioning your patriotism. But I've found that in the Legion, most of the men have at least one other motive for joining our hazardous venture. Wives they regret marrying, for example—"
"I'm single, General."
"No, I haven't that problem."
"I should imagine not." Bleak, tired eyes ranged the murmuring river where a heat mist was beginning to form. "Sometimes the motive for a man staying in the army is simply an inability to endure other, comparatively tame endeavors once the man has tasted battle—" That, Wayne's officers well knew, was the general's own spur.
Wayne turned slightly, his eyes reflecting the distant fires. Those glowing eyes prodded Abraham to another honest reply. "Well, sir, in my case that doesn't apply either. I left home because my father and I were having our differences."
"Over what, may I ask?"
"My future. Specifically, my future with the family printing house. My father wanted me to study at Harvard a year or so, then join him in the business. I honestly couldn't decide whether I wanted that. With so much happening in the country—all this new land opening—it seemed, to use your word, a tame alternative."
"So you chose a period in the army to think things over?"
"Exactly, sir. I'm afraid my father and I had quite a few loud and lengthy arguments on the subject. On many other subjects, too. We don't see eye to eye on politics, for instance."
Wayne nodded. "I'm familiar with Kent and Son publishing tracts in support of Mr. Hamilton's Federalist views."
Excerpted from The Seekers by John Jakes. Copyright © 2002 John Jakes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Author as (Bad?) Actor,
The Kent Family,
Book One: Kent and Son,
Chapter I Battle Morning,
Chapter II The Charge,
Chapter III Clouds at Homecoming,
Chapter IV The Storm Breaks,
Chapter V "Scenes of Life Among the Mighty",
Chapter VI Wedding Night,
Chapter VII Wagon Road,
Chapter VIII Ark to the Wilderness,
Book Two: The Enemy Land,
Chapter I The Cabin,
Chapter II Old Ghosts and New Beginnings,
Chapter III The Burning,
Chapter IV Problems of a Modernist,
Chapter V The Mark,
Chapter VI Blood,
Book Three: Voices of War,
Chapter I Jared,
Chapter II A Mackerel by Moonlight,
Chapter III The Frigate,
Chapter IV The Devil's Companion,
Chapter V "Her Sides Are Made of Iron!",
Chapter VI Heritage,
Book Four: Cards of Fate,
Chapter I Mr. Piggott,
Chapter II Act of Vengeance,
Chapter III Act of Murder,
Chapter IV Ordeal,
Chapter V Reverend Blackthorn,
Chapter VI Judge Jackson,
Chapter VII Pursuit to St. Louis,
Chapter VIII The Windigo,
Chapter IX "I Will Seek That Which Was Lost",
Epilogue In the Tepee of the Dog Soldier,
Preview: The Furies,
A Biography of John Jakes,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Seekers is the third book in the Kent Family Chronicles and perhaps the first one that helps identify the courage and bravery of early Americans. I felt a stronger emotional tie with this third novel than I did the first two. To understand our American Heritage the John Jakes' Kent Family Chronicles is a must read. Although these novels were written over 20 years ago they are excellent and recommended reading.
Best series I have ever read.