Ever Feel Like Everyone is Out to Get You?
I spent last week at our vacation home in Rocky Point walking on the beach or sitting on the porch watching the changing tides and colors of the Sea of Cortez. It was such a needed recuperation! While I was there, I did get some writing done and made a great deal of progress on Alsoomse’s story as it continues in book three. Many of you have told me how much you have come to love the Native American girl, who first appeared at the end of book one, Thrown to the Wind, and then became a more integral part of the story in book two, A Home in the Wilderness. Her story continues in book three interwoven with those of Etienne and Abraham.
Often the hardest thing we do as writers, is to take a beloved character and turn their worlds upside down. Then as we watch them struggling to right it, we then throw other difficult obstacles in their way. It seems sadistic, but if not for those trials, there would be no growth, and likely, no readers! Who wants to read a story in which everything is going along smoothly, or the challenges are so slight the protagonist can easily walk through them without noticing. And yet, for the author it is like handing our children over to kidnappers and bullies!
Now it is time to continue with Francis Usselton’s story through the eyes of his daughter Susannah.
Trouble in Newport
6 June 1671 – The sun was just coming up in the window, when Susannah woke up in the bed she shared with her older sister, Mary. John and Benjamin were already dressed and climbing down the ladder. Mary was oldest at 15 years. John was a year behind her. Susannah was next at 13 and Benjamin was only ten. Mary was waking their younger sisters and instructing them to dress. Providence and Cornelia were seven and four respectively.
Susannah slipped her dress over her head and fastened it. She looked into the mirror as she brushed her hair. She was not pretty, like Mary was with her chocolate-colored eyes and burnished copper hair. Her younger sisters were pretty, too, like Mama. Her straw-colored hair hung in limp strands that refused to soften, no matter how much she brushed it. Her nose was too pointy, her ears were too big, and her lips too narrow. Her eyes were her only pleasant feature. They were a shockingly bright blue that changed with her temperament. They could be a soft sky blue when she was happy or a dark midnight blue when she was angry.
“Hurry up, Susannah!” Mama called up from the ground floor. Mary was already ushering the little girls down the ladder.
“Coming.” Quickly she finished braiding her hair into a long plait and tied off the end with a green ribbon. Then she followed the others down the ladder from the loft.
Mama was setting bowls of steaming oatmeal on the table. Susannah dumped a heaping spoonful of brown sugar on top and covered the whole thing with milk. Benjamin was stirring his milk and sugar into the oatmeal making a sloppy mess. Susannah wrinkled her nose in disgust. It was much better to let the sugar melt on top of the oatmeal and eat from the edges toward the center.
“Where is Papa?” John asked.
Papa had gone into Newport yesterday to sell the beaver pelts he had trapped and buy supplies, but they had gone to bed before he had gotten home.
“I don’t know,” Mama replied. “Mary and Susannah, I want you to go into town after you eat and see if you can find him. It may be that he had to wait for the shipment to come in this morning or maybe he met with some other trouble.” After a moment, she added, “John you’d been go with them. And be sure to check the taverns.”
“Why do I have to go?” Mary asked, frowning. Her lower lip projected into a most unbecoming pout.
“Mary don’t start this now,” Mama said, sighing.
“Susannah and John can handle Papa. Why do they need me?” Mary persisted.
“Your father may need help getting home. Who knows what condition he is in or how many things you will need to carry back.” Mama paused again and her lips pressed together in a hard line. She added, “I need you to do this.”
“Fine!” Mary said, standing up so abruptly she knocked over the stool, she’d been sitting on. “Come on, Let’s get this over with!”
Susannah took one more big bite of oatmeal and quickly followed Mary and John out of the small two-room cabin.
It took nearly an hour to make it to town. It hadn’t rained in a few weeks and Susannah kicked up dust with every step, but this was much better than the last time she had gone to town. It had been after a strong rain and her boots had become caked in thick, sticky mud.
“What trouble has Papa gotten into now?” Mary asked, scowling.
“Why do you think Papa’s in trouble?” Susannah replied.
“If he’s not in trouble, then where is he?” John asked, throwing a stone down the path in front of them so that it bounced several times before skittering to a stop. As they reached the stone, John stooped to retrieve it and sent it caroming off a tree trunk and into the brush.
“It’s not always Papa’s fault,” Susannah said, softly.
John made a harumphing sound and kicked a stone down the road.
“Maybe not,” Mary said, angrily, “but he always does seem to find it!”
They walked on in silence, except for the crunching of their steps on the dirt road.
Newport, Rhode Island was an exciting place. The main street was crowded with people going about their business. The colony had been founded by religious dissenters fleeing Massachusetts. As a result, it had quickly drawn in people with many different religious practices. There were Jews, Quakers, Anabaptists, and Congregationalists. The diversity was easily apparent in the way people dressed and spoke. Susannah loved coming to town, if only to watch the people.
The buildings were mostly wood clapboard structures either painted or not, but there was some diversity. The Quaker meeting hall was a simple white structure nearly indistinguishable from a modest house, while the Congregational church reminded members of their duties with the ringing from its soaring bell tower that pointed toward Heaven. The White Horse Tavern was an imposing, red building standing on the corner of Farewell and Marlborough streets. Here, they finally found their father slumped over a drink at the bar.
The White Horse Tavern Newport Rhode Island, est. 1673, photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel, 3 May 2017
John walked up to their father and shook him awake. “Papa, what are you doing?”
Papa opened his eyes and looked up at them. “What are you children doing here? Shouldn’t you be home helping your Mother?”
“She sent us to look for you. Why didn’t you come home last night?” Mary’s voice sounded icy and stern.
“I don’t need to explain myself to either of you!” Then he saw Susannah and his tone softened. “Well, I suppose it is time to get home. I didn’t mean to worry your mother. Come here girls and help me up. My legs don’t work so well as they used to.”
Susannah slipped under one arm and Mary under the other. Locking their arms together around their father’s back they hoisted him up and led him to the door. John was left to bring up the rear. Her father recoiled as the sunshine hit his face, but they managed to hold him steady and propel him down the street. They hadn’t gone more than a few feet before two men came at them with angry gestures and raised voices.
“Stop right there!” one said.
“What are you doing here, Francis Usselton?” the other demanded.
“I am enjoying a beautiful day with my children,” her father replied.
“You are in violation of your court order,” the first said.
“Come with me. You must appear before the magistrate to answer for this.” The men took their father by the arms and marched him across the street to the Assembly House.
“What are they going to do with Papa?” Susannah asked, feeling the tears welling in her eyes.
“Come on,” John said, taking her hand and Mary’s. Quickly, he led them in pursuit of the men and their father.
The floorboards creaked as they entered the building. In the foyer, several men stood around talking in hushed voices.
“Excuse me, sir,” John asked the man standing nearest the door. “Did you see where those two men brought our father?”
The man had an amused look on his face and slowly looked the three of them up and down. “He’s your father, eh?”
John squared his shoulders and looked the man right in the eye. Somehow he looked taller than he had been moments before. In fact, he was taller than Mary by a good three inches, even though he was a full year younger. “Yes, sir. Did you see where they took him?”
“In there. But be quiet when you go in. Court is in session and the judge will not be pleased to have you stirring up a commotion.”
“We won’t, sir. Thank you, sir.” John nodded once and led them into the chamber.
Several people sat in groups on hard wooded benches on both sides of the aisle. They could see their father seated between the two men on a bench in the front of the room, just behind the low wooden partition. The judge was seated behind an ominous podium at the far wall, addressing two men, who were standing in front of him just beyond the partition. Quickly, they slipped into a row and sat down on the hard wooden bench.
“This court finds in favor of Jacob Smith and orders Samuel Jones to work for Mr. Smith for a total of six months to cover the loss of Mr. Smith’s oxen.” Then he banged his gavel down and scanned the audience. His eyes landed on her father. “Francis Usselton, please stand and approach the bench.”
Susannah watched her father rise and walk unsteadily to face the judge and assembled jury.
The judge spoke first. “Francis Usselton, by the last General court of trials you were sentenced to depart this Island, and not to return without leave of two Magistrates. And here you were seen, contrary to the said Court of Trials sentence, coming into the town of Newport and publicly walking the streets in the time of the Assemblies sitting, which being taken notice of, and were sent for into this court to answer for your contempt. What say you?”
“I have nothing to say.”
“Then this court orders you to depart immediately and not to return again without the permission of two Magistrates or to be found in contempt.” Then the Judge, who was also the Governor, turned to the two men who had brought her father into the court and said, “Please see Mr. Usselton out and ensure that he leaves the Island forthwith.”
The two men took places in front and behind her father and began to lead him out of the Assembly. When they got halfway down the aisle, her father turned and faced the judge once more.
“Your honorable wife, I thank your justice. It must be a comfort to all of you to see that this town may be kept secure from such a heinous man, who has done nothing whatever except to walk its streets! May you all rot in hell for your said justice!” Then her father turned to leave the Assembly room.
But the judge was on his feet banging his gavel loudly. “Whereas, Francis Usselton was by the last General court of Tryall’s sentence to depart this Island, and not to return without leave of two Magistrates; and he the said Usselton; contrary to the said Court of Tryall's sentence, coming into the town of Newport and publicly walking the streets in the time of the Assemblies sitting, which being taken notice of, and he sent for into the court, to answer for his contempt, instead of giving the Assembly satisfaction; he the said Usselton, upon orders to the court to depart, as he was going out of the Court, turned back and did publicly in the Court jeers the authority in a scornful manner, saying to the Governor, 'Your honorable wife,' and 'I thank your justice,' with many other scornful contemptuous carriages; for which misdemeanor and contempt, the Court do sentence the said Usselton to be forthwith whipt, with fifteen stripes. And also it is ordered that the said Francis Usselton shall forthwith depart the Colony; and if he shall come to abide in any town of this Colony hereafter it shall be in the power of any two magistrates to cause the said Usselton to be severely whipt and sent away. ”
Once again, the gavel banged down on the podium. The two men took her father roughly by the arms and hurried him outside.
Susannah stood up and, with John and Mary, hurried out after their father. They watched as the two magistrates ripped off his cloak and shirt and secured him to the stockades just outside the courthouse. The whip cracked across her father’s back leaving angry an red welt. Mary suddenly turned to Susannah and embraced her, burying her face in her shoulder. Tears were streaming down Susannah’s face, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the horrible scene. Her father was yelling curses at the magistrates and the townspeople, who had gathered around to jeer at him. The whip cracked again and again and again until her father’s back was a terrible mess. Blood poured from the wounds crisscrossing over the remaining skin. Mary was sobbing uncontrollably. John stood watching, anger writ on his face, and hands clenched into fists at his side.
Finally, it was over and the magistrates released him. Susannah helped Mary work his shirt back onto his torso. The fabric stuck to his back as the blood seeped through the material. Francis flinched in pain, as they fastened the cloak over his shoulders concealing the evidence of his ordeal.
One of the magistrates turned to John. “Ensure that he leaves tonight. We will be by your place at dawn and if we find him there . . . well, you heard the sentence. See that he is not present.”
John clenched his teeth and nodded once. Then he took their father by one arm. Mary took the other and they headed for home. The walk home seemed to take three times as long as it had earlier that day. No one spoke. Only the wind rustling the leaves and the occasional bird broke the silence. Every now and again her father stumbled and groaned. It took all three of them to steady him. When they finally got home, they helped Papa onto a bench by the fireplace and took his cloak to hang on one of the pegs by the door. Mama was stirring a big pot of stew hanging over the fire.
Mama took one look at her husband and said, “Children, go upstairs and check on Benjamin and the girls.”
They knew from Mama’s tone, not to argue. Susannah, though, stopped on the top of the ladder and sat down where she knew Mama couldn’t see her, but where she could hear what they said downstairs.
“What have you gotten into now, Francis?”
Her father sighed. “The Court of Trials has ordered me to leave Rhode Island immediately.”
“Why? Can’t you appeal the decision? What did you do this time?”
“I am sorry, Sarah. It is not possible.”
“When are you leaving?”
“Tonight.” Her father groaned.
“Holy Mother! What have they done? Let me see.”
Susannah heard her father gasp and speak profanities.
“You can’t leave tonight. You can barely walk. I will go to town tomorrow and plead with the judge . . . “
“No, Sarah.” Silence stretched for several minutes. Susannah could hear her brothers and sisters exchanging the news of the day in the attic. John sounded angry and Mary was trying to calm him. Then her father spoke again, softer, “I will take Mabel. She is sure-footed and mild tempered. I will send word to you when I find a place for us.”
“What did you do to deserve this whipping, Francis?”
“I did not leave Newport, as ordered.”
“So this was your second offense here?” Her mother’s voice sounded angry and hard.
“The magistrates and I had had a few . . . differences of opinion.”
“Will your brother have you? Your last parting was not very favorable.”
“He is still my brother. Charles will take us in for a short time, at least. Once I get there, I will look for another accommodation for us.”
“We had to leave suddenly last time we were in Wenham. Are you allowed to return there?”
“I left Massachusetts by choice.” Her father paused. He sounded tired. “Sarah, I know it has not been easy living with me. I am sorry for that. I promise you that we will make a new start. I am weary. Please don’t press me further.”
“You will need to have these bandages changed when you get to Charles’ house. And we better get some food into you, or you’ll never make the trip.” Suddenly, her mother appeared at the foot of the ladder. “Susannah! How long have you been there?”
“I was just coming to ask when supper would be ready and heard you and Papa talking. I was just going to go back up . . .”
Her mother gave her a long appraising look and sighed. “Tell you brothers and sisters to come down for supper. Be quick.”
When the children had settled down on the benches lining the plank table, Mama led them in saying grace. Their father never participated, but just waited quietly for them to finish.
Bless us, Oh, Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Mama then served the steaming stew into the trenchers and gave each of them a wooden spoon. The cornbread was still hot and smelled delicious, but Susannah had trouble eating. She took a sip of her mead and started at her mug. Papa is leaving. And then we will be leaving too. She wondered where they would go now. Would she like this new place? Will they like Papa?
Great Friends Meeting House, Newport, RI, photo by Ajay Suresh
In my last newsletter, I shared several of Francis Usselton’s run-ins with the courts in Massachusetts. If you missed that one, you may find it here. After leaving Massachusetts, he took his family to Holms Hole Neck on Martha’s Vineyard, where he was eventually convicted of squatting and was again forced to leave. This time, he settled in Newport, Rhode Island.
Newport was founded in 1639 on Aquidneck Island on the edge of Narragansett Bay by a group of settlers from Portsmouth, including Ann Hutchinson. The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations received a royal charter from King Charles II in 1663.
Many of the first colonists became Baptists and, under the leadership of John Clarke, established the second Baptist congregation in Rhode Island in 1640. A group of Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal were invited to settle in Newport in 1658. This group eventually came to be known as the Congregation Jeshuat Isreal. It is the second oldest Jewish congregation in America. A Quaker community also settled in Newport in the mid-17th century and largely controlled the culture and politics from the late 17th century through the 18th century. Prior to the current meeting house, which was built in 1699, it is believed that they met in the home of Nicholas Easton located on Farewell Street. Easton donated the land for the larger meeting house which was build nearby. According to the Newport Historical Society, when it was completed, the Friends Meeting House was the largest structure of any kind between Boston and New York.
It seems that after leaving Martha’s Vineyard, Francis continued to get into trouble with the courts. The statements in the scene above by Francis Usselton and Judge were direct quotes from the Court Records of Newport in 1671.
According to The Architectural Heritage of Newport Rhode Island, by Antoinette Forrester Downing and Vincent Joseph Scully, 1967, p. 433, the White Horse Tavern, located on the corner of Farewell and Marlborough streets in Newport, Rhode Island, was constructed before 1673 and is believed to be the oldest tavern building in the United States.
It is amazing to me, how Francis could find himself banished from the colony that took emigrants from nearly every other country and colony of the time! They eventually settled on
Staten Island, but that is a story for another time.
On another subject, I am debating changing the cover of my first book, Thrown to the Wind, so that it may appeal more to the middle-grade market. So, I am conducting a survey to see which one is more appealing. If you are interested in voting, visit my Facebook page and let me know what you think.
For reference, the current cover is shown at the left.
Take care and see you next month!