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"You. Gentlemen. Are regarded as prisoners of war. And shall be treated as such until Governor Verdunnet declare otherwise. He shall petition the British authority for a prisoner exchange. If they decline. You shall be hanged as spies."

The Adventure on Pine Tree Creek

©05 Levite
See Below

Province of Mayne, September 1715

      And here I begin my journal, although who will ever read it but myself is a question I dare not ask.
      At this moment I am sitting on a fallen tree, overlooking the shore that would be pleasant enough at another time and place, or even in this place, which the French call Acadia or Mayne, under other circumstances. I have this blank ledger which was commissioned to log part of our trip from Virginia Colony, several charcoals with which to write, and evidently time with which to do it.
      And so, since I have the best part of the day to write, since our party traipses through the night, I will.
      At first I will properly introduce myself to this journal.
      I was named James, in honor more of the first Settlement of the Colony my Grandfather helped to found than the King for which it was named. I am, as of this day, Twenty One years, and four months old. Some have told me that I present a handsome figure, others have remarked that I am taller than I wont to be, but I enjoy being nearly a full head above the other Men of our Church.
      My trade was apprentice furrier, although I was in place to learn the secrets of commanding a trading expedition both into the wild lands of the natives and into regions controlled both by France and Spain and return with a profit.
      And such is how I arrived here, upon this log.
      And I do believe it is altogether fitting that I describe in detail the events up to this point. And then, as chance and sleep allow, once I bring this account up to date, I shall continue from the point at which I rejoin the narration from this point forward.
      And so I shall go to the beginning of the beginning of this journey. Into Acadia

      We left port in Virginia and sailed north toward what the captain still called New Amsterdam and then to Boston where we made port for some time while we laid in store for both use and trade.
      With adequate provender for what we anticipated to be an extensive expedition into the highlands along the border of the English and French claims into the wildlands of the Wabanaki people.

      We lay at anchor in a small bay for some time trading with the natives and gathering information on the Penobscott River above the falls. Finally Captain Johnstone was satisfied with the information from the native guides and trappers that were friendly to us and readied an expedition to row upriver.
      The river experienced tides for some distance inland, but at low tide there were various sandbars that may well require portage, but we had bearers with us for such labors. It was those very bars that prevented us from sailing the ship into the river. If we had arrived earlier in the year we would not have had to occupy ourselves with the matter.
      One thing I appreciated about Captain Johnstone was that he did not believe in small shore parties. Four boats and crews were to make the journey. Each with an officer and a mate and several seamen. We would be well armed, and heavily provided for. My last voyage was with Captain Booth and he was of the other mind. Captain Booth put the smallest party possible ashore, at times only one officer and maybe three or four men would take a boat out. Which meant if weather or chance intervened, the officer would be obliged to pull on an oar as a common seaman.
      Of course with such a heavy party we could scarcely pass through the countryside unmarked by eyes either friendly, hostile, or indifferent. But as they examined us, they would most certainly weigh the wisdom of issuing a challenge which would surly be met with superior might.

      We worked well up the river past several encampments and one white settlement going through several portages. On the third day we came to the large fork the trappers had spoke of and we bore right as we had intended in order to meet up with another party of trappers.
      The further from the ocean we got the closer to the river the forest got until finally the trees met overhead.
      I'm glad Master O'Bianco was confident he knew the route back for the river had divided and rejoined several times around a sizable collection of islands where the current seemed to flow counter to what one would perceive as the general direction of the river.
      On the afternoon of the fifth day we arrived at the group of small lakes where we were supposed to meet the trappers.
      "We are a day early." Master O'Bianco said. I was surprised so he continued. "The river was favorable." He looked at the banks on both sides of the boat. "The camp is there." He pointed with his chin.
      I didn't see a camp, then I understood, we would make it.

      The seamen and others in the party drew up the boats and set to arranging our camp.
      Under normal circumstances we would have constructed a palisade. But the day was already getting old, and the effort to haul enough trees of suitable size from the surrounding hills to the camp area would have been too much to ask of those who had rowed and poled our boats all day. Instead we built watch fires and arranged armed watches for the night.
      The next day we did some scouting while the men fished or hunted to supplement our rations. We found where an Indian camp had been, but the best that we could determine was that it had been abandoned at least several months ago. Our guides got into a rather heated exchange as to whether the Indians had been the Penobscott tribe or the more substantial Passamaquoddy tribe. There were items present from both groups according to the guides who sought a ruling from myself and Master O'Bianco. But as I was totally unfamiliar with the Indians this far north and the master of the boats considered all Indians more the same than not.
      Then not far from the Indian area we found some items of a much more familiar design.
      "It's the Port Royal badge." Master O'Bianco said.
      "The French Expedition" I said slowly. To me, the French were potentially more of an issue than either of the other tribes of wild Indians.
      "How close are we to the Saint Croix River overland?" One of the men asked.
      I wasn't sure and neither was Master O'Bianco.
      The maps we had weren't overly accurate once you progressed any substantial distance from the shore.

      Finally we all agreed to ask the trappers what had been going on with the local natives and our proximity to the French river we walked back to camp.
      One of the things that made me nervous was that for this journey I'd be willingly traveling into territory that was being actively disputed between the British and French crowns even though the last war and treaty should have clarified the possession of the territory, it had not.
      All the parties agreed that everything north of the Saint Croix should be part of the French claim to the New World, and that everything south of the Androscoggin was English, the dispute was about most of what was in the middle.
      One couldn't help but wonder how the matter would play out as time wore on. The region was obviously rich with timber and pelts. There were several places where gems had been found and brought out, and rumors had circulated about gold being found in some high country streams. All together it was enough to keep the eye of those seeking fortunes in this new world focused on the territory. And it was enough to send me into these unsettled lands in spite of my misgivings.
      As we waited for the trappers I tried my own hand at placer mining with a dinner plate operating as a gold pan. With it I worked at the edge of a side stream swirling and tapping the pan to see if any nuggets were in the gravel. To my dismay, there weren't.

      I heard some heavy steps behind me and turned to see who was approaching and was somewhat relieved to see it was several of those for whom we were waiting.
      "Ya's needs to be fut-er up ta moun-ains sah." Is the best I can render his quote into the written word.
      The man that spoke was the most prime example of the term 'pioneer' I had ever seen. He was large and hairy to the point of not looking like a man any more. He was wearing some English and French clothes, but was mostly covered with a long vest made of doeskin and decorated in the Indian style. On his head was a hat, if I may use the term, of birch bark with an animal tail affixed to it.
      I told him I suspected that we were too far down into the flats, but I thought I'd try it anyway. He agreed and said that he'd found some good things doing just that. Then he began to talk about another stream where, according to him, one could scoop gems from the bottom almost casually. I pressed him for the location of said stream, but his answers were less than satisfactory to assure me that such a stream existed.

      Shortly after my acquaintance's arrival several more of his breed came in and Master O'Bianco said we could begin our conference.
      They went back and forth about everything from where the biggest beaver were to French and Dutch activity in the area.
      While they talked, I looked at the men who now numbered a dozen and a half.
      All were weather worn to where it was impossible to tell their age although most appeared to be mature and at least thirty years of age. I was also surprised that while the majority were British, or at least Scottish or Irish, several of their number were from the Continent and at least one of those openly proclaimed himself a Frenchman. He was the only one who claimed any allegiance to either side that I could tell. Most didn't care whose flag flew as long as they were left alone and were paid in gold for their trade goods.
      "Effen de Mayne is de-clare-ed a Crown col-o-nee oh eit-er of 'em, I willen move ta the French lake terr-tory." My acquaintance said with some force and I tried my best to transcribe it here. He spoke English, for the most part, whereas some of the others spoke a peculiar mixture of that and French with some Indian words of various tongues.
      His proclamation was met with muttered agreement from most of the men.
      Master O'Bianco assured them that at present there were no such British plans and that at least our Governor was content with the arrangement as it stood.
      The French trapper said something about how Governor Verdunnet was planning to alter that agreement but reduced himself to muttering into his beard and then was silent.
      "Gov-ah-nah Verd-n..." The first trapper said. "... de Pe-u Prince eu May-ne." He laughed in an uncouth snorting way.
      I noted the remark because I was not aware that a new governor of the French part of the province had been named.
      I also knew enough of the French language to recognize that the title 'Peu Prince' was hardly complimentary.
      Later events would prove something that happened that evening as most important although it hardly seemed so at the time. The French trapper ate the dinner we provided, then threw his haversack over his shoulder and left without another word to anybody.

      We spent the better part of the two following days with the trappers filling in our maps and learning all we could from them that we considered reliable. Then we spent a day to pack and began our journey back downriver at first light the next morning.
      It was on our second day out from the camp that we ran into trouble.
      Somebody had felled a large tree across the river just around a sharp bend. The lead boat couldn't stop their progress with the current and ran afoul of it sinking the boat and drowning several of the men. Master O'Bianco's boat hove to and they were able to abandon the vessel to the tree with some loss of life. My boat was next in line and the men fought the oars and after nearly capsizing us, managed to run the craft aground. The last boat swung wide of the obstacle and beached on the far side of the river partially swamped with water.
      We were instantly set upon by French soldiers and several Indians of a tribe I didn't recognize. Our men on the far side of the river were obliged to withdraw and hide as all of their arms were still in their boat and the French soldiery was ready with rifle and pistol.
      Fortunately the French were intent on capturing as many of us alive as possible and several of their troop waded into the river to retrieve Master O'Bianco and such of the others as survived the wreck of the boats.
      Once we were disarmed and bound a short but large built man in an ornate uniform with several various Orders decorating his greatcoat and a crest on his hat that actually emphasized his girth relative to his height. His overall bearing was almost that of someone of the royal household and even though we were in the midst of the wild countryside, he was impeccably groomed and freshly shaved.
      As he approached the sergeant of our guards proceeded with the French hat salute even going as far as to include a bow with it.
      After that ceremony they conversed for several minutes in French.
      My understanding of that language is somewhat limited, but I caught enough of their meaning to know that they considered us trespassers and were debating whether to hold us ransom or just take us prisoner as spies to be tried and dealt with accordingly.
      Then the officer, whom I gathered was Monsieur Verdunnet, took his time and appraised each and every one of us silently, then he spoke in very aristocratic French back to the sergeant and another officer I judged to be a lieutenant.
      In a moment the lieutenant took three of the soldiers and ported our boat around the blockage they had created in the river and then they proceeded downriver in our own vessel.
      Once that was accomplished the sergeant and his superior had a few more words.
      Finally the sergeant bowed to the officer and then replaced his hat before he turned to us and spoke in clear but somewhat flat English.
      "You. Gentlemen. Are regarded as prisoners of war. And shall be treated as such until Governor Verdunnet declare otherwise. He shall petition the British authority for a prisoner exchange. If they decline. You shall be hanged as spies."
      And with that he turned to the soldiers under him and issued more orders in French for them to make us ready to travel south. They loosened the fetters on our legs somewhat and gave us a little more freedom to move our arms. But we were still linked one to another with rope.
      While the soldiers worked on us a tall strong African man stepped out from behind the other soldiers and very carefully assisted Mssr. Verdunnet with his costume. They removed his elegant coat and ornate hat, then replaced them with more acceptable accouterments for travel.
      As all this was accomplished, the natives that had been guiding the French melted into the forest and were never seen by me again.
      Once the Governor was suitably attired we were off.

      The trail was poor and we fell often. But the French were not of a mind to travel as quickly as might have been possible and stopped often so the Governor could take rest.
      With every pause the African man would be instructed to see to our bindings and offer us water.
      I spoke to him at these times and he would appear to understand and made firm eye contact with me that I was not used to from one of his kind, but he never answered, so I judged him dumb of tongue.
      We spent several nights in rude camps under constant guard, but we ate and slept fairly well so I had no real complaint except for the total lack of privacy for various functions of the body.
      Toward the end of the next day the boat returned up river. The lieutenant saluted with his hat and spoke to the Governor at length.
      I could not hear what was said but by the reaction of the others, especially the African whom I had been speaking to, the news was not favorable to our cause.
      Then one day a storm of Heaven's own wrath was upon us from before sunrise until well into the following night. The soldiers were unable to keep a fire burning so we were all forced to eat cold dry rations and endure pounding rain with only what we had on and such shelter as we could find in the pine woods we were in.
      Lightning shattered the trees and scattered us and the French soldiers like chaff. Thunder liked to deafen us. The winds tore branches from the trees and whipped us with them.
      Then as the night lengthened the violence subsided and one began to see the moon and stars through broken clouds.
      We prisoners anticipated moving out at first light, however, the French were in near total disarray.
      First I gathered that the African was missing. Then during their call of the roll they found several other soldiers were missing as well. The Governor refused to break camp until he found out what happened to them.
      One of the French soldiers tracked what he thought was the African to the edge of the now swollen and roaring creek. But there the trail ended.
      The body of one of the missing soldiers was found some time later at the edge of the river. They could not tell what he had died of that I heard, only that he was dead.
      By the time the Governor was satisfied it was too late to begin the journey again.
      We passed another night under the trees and wondered about the missing men.
      Early the next morning I awoke suddenly and didn't know why. I looked around in the faint light and almost didn't believe my eyes.
      At the very edge of a thicket I saw the African man.
      He nodded to me and put a finger over his lips to keep me quiet. Then he motioned toward me, then gestured to his own eyes and finally pointed to himself.
      I understood his signaling immediately and covertly mimicked the gesture in reverse order without attracting unwanted French attention. Then I nodded slowly.
      The African repeated the gestures again, then pointed away toward the south.
      I pointed south and nodded again.
      Then the African vanished into the thicket so subtly I wondered if I had been half-awake and dreamt the whole exchange.
      The French fixed a hurried breakfast for everybody and soon thereafter the diminished party left to continue south.

      We had been walking most of the day in occasional light rain and a steady breeze when the terrain changed and became increasingly difficult. The soldiers untied us from a large group to only one man to one other man. Thusly we were able to scramble over the rocks and fallen logs much more easily. We climbed up some low hills and the path followed the top of a rise with a steep hill to one side leading down to a small creek. The rocks were slippery and what had been a breeze before was now a meaningful wind that made the rain sting our faces.
      Then I saw the African concealing himself amongst some brush at the bottom. He glanced around to make sure the French didn't see him, then gestured quickly for me to come down the hill.
      "Franklin." I said in a half whisper to my partner that was almost blown away by the storm.
      "We are going down the hill."
      "Yes sir." He answered.
      We walked a few more steps and then I stepped too close to the edge.
      Given that the ground was slick with water and mud and the wind was making walking untenable at times my slip to fall was more actual that I had hoped.
      Franklin's shriek as the rope pulled him down behind me was wrenching to hear as we tumbled much further than it had looked to land in a heap at the bottom of the hill.
      And then I heard a voice.
      "Do not move. They must believe you have died."
      I couldn't help but glance over.
      It was the African. He nodded slowly to me and melted back into the brush.
      The storm did us a blessing by intensifying to be almost uncomfortable.
      We lay still as the voices above us shouted and hooted in French. And the sergeant called to us in his English.
      Then they became quiet.
      "They are going. Do not get up." I heard the African say.
      "Franklin?" I whispered.
      "Yes sir?"
      "All you injured?"
      "Not as I can tell sir."
      "Good. Don't move. We're going to be all right."
      "Yes sir."
      We lay still for some time. Finally I heard the African again.
      "They have gone. One soldier remained watching. He is dead."
      I looked up. "You killed him."
      "Yes." The man said without emotion.
      I moved slowly and felt several muscles cramp. Franklin swore softly then apologized for it as he went through similar sensations.
      "Eat." The African said handing us some slightly damp bread and a skin of water as he cut our bonds.
      "Thank you." I said to him and took the bread.
      Franklin was reluctant, but then he accepted the food and drink. "It would seem that now is not the time to be proper."
      The African's eyes hardened briefly, but then he nodded. "Now we survive."
      "I'm James. What's your name?" I said to him.
      "The name my mother called me is Vry."
      I ate some of the bread and then looked at our benefactor. "Vry, why did you do this?"
      "They would kill you."
      I didn't understand. "The French?"
      Franklin looked from the African to me then back. "We were prisoners of war."
      "Your Governor would not trade."
      "You heard the report from the lieutenant." I said.
      "Yes. He went out to your ship. Spoke to the Captain. He said the English would not bargain." He frowned. "You do not deserve to be hanged."
      "How do you know English and French?"
      The African looked at Franklin like he had just sprouted antlers. "I listen."
      Franklin took a bite of his bread instead of answering.
      "Do you think we can free the others?" I had asked him.
      "I am certain of it." Vry said. "Or we can die trying."
      "Then what of you?" I asked him.
      "I wish for only one thing from the English."
      "If I can give it I will." I answered. "My word as an officer and a gentleman."
      He frowned but he told me what he wanted. "If we live. Take me to South Acadia. On the Great River."
      I told him I had heard some of the sea captains talk of it.
      "Some of my people went there. To escape the last war."
      We stood up and stretched. Franklin asked him if the people that went there were Africans.
      "Not all. But the woman I was to marry was with them."
      "Then we will see to it that you get there." I said and nodded to Franklin.
      "Yes sir. It would seem that we owe him our lives."
      "It would seem." He answered and we started south along the creek.

      We caught up to the French party somewhat nearer the coast. But we had no clear plan of action.
      The French still had several soldiers, all armed, and our men were still tied hand and foot.
      "Darkness." The African said.
      "Yes." I agreed.
      We retreated behind some low thick bushes and waited.
      One of the things I asked Vry was how he came to be in the service of Mssr. Verdunnet.
      Vry's face became long and sad for a moment. "He inherited me before we came here. Many years ago."
      It took some questioning, but it seemed that Vry was the son of an indentured servant to Verdunnet's family in French Africa. Both myself and Franklin were of the opinion that any debt had long been paid and Vry should consider himself free.
      "I do." The man said. "That is my name. It is 'Free'."

      We slept in short shifts for the rest of the day, then as the night drew dark and still we began to creep toward the French camp.
      The plan was for Vry to silently dispatch any of the French guards that were around the prisoners, while myself and Franklin freed them.
      "You leave them to me." Vry had said when I had mentioned the guards. "I have killed Frenchmen before."
      Vry vanished into the darkness and the light mist of the evening without a sound. Then in about five minutes he reappeared and handed me a French sword and gave Franklin one of their daggers.
      "Come." He said.
      We crawled past where the soldier had been standing and I glimpsed a pair of boots in the brush in the flickering light of a nearby watch fire.
      The other guard was not paying attention until it was too late. He said something in my direction as I cut the cords binding one of the other men, but then he gasped suddenly and slumped to the ground. Then Vry dragged him away.

      In short order we had freed our companions, and taken the deceased soldier's sacks and weapons.
      We debated attacking the French and returning the favor of captivity to Mssr. Verdunnet and his party, but Master O'Bianco was able to prevail on us to slip into the night and make good our escape.
      We crossed the river by the dim light of the moon and worked south west as best I could reckon.
      I do not know what happened with the French beyond that point. Although as we followed the shoreline we could hear faint shouting and calling in French from the fog.

      It was nearly noon by the sun when we stopped and rested ourselves from our flight.
      I opened the haversack I had been carrying to see what was in it of use. And thusly I found this book, one of our own journals, that had been taken from us by the French. I was somewhat relieved that the common French soldier that had taken it, had not written in it with his charcoals save for the place and year as appears above.

      From a group of more than twenty that had set out from the ship, we were now nine, counting Vry, with no ship or provision other than what we had taken from the dead French soldiers or could forage in the wild. We knew that six or more of our original companions had both escaped the wreck of the boats and capture by the French, but what had become of them we could not even venture a guess.
      Master O'Bianco and Vry both thought it best if we avoided travel by the light of the sun and stuck to snaking along the coast at night, or in foul weather, to avoid unwanted attention unless we could be sure the ship or party was English as it was quite possible Mssr. Verdunnet and his officers were quite hot for our recapture. Which was why we gave a wide skirting to several small outposts and villages that appeared to have either French sympathies or were perhaps of mixed loyalties. Although as we worked past them, Vry did manage to liberate some supplies for our use without being sighted by the inhabitants.
      At one point I asked Vry how he had come to be so adept at secluding himself as he did and hand combat as well.
      "I trained as a warrior of my people. Before the French took us." Was all he'd say on the subject.

      And now today I am sitting here looking out over the sea reflecting on the events of the last several weeks.
      I regret those lives that were lost. Indeed, those of our companions and the French soldiers who were merely under orders. But now I realize that we all were, and are, caught up in a protracted struggle between great powers who may never realize what occurred along what I call Pine Tree Creek where Vry freed us so we could free him.
      Their ignorance is their loss. To us, the events were great. And indeed, they were life altering. At least in my case. I can never look at another African in the same way as before.

      Two days after that last entry we walked into a small fishing and trapping village that was undeniably English.
      We convinced the master of a fishing boat to ferry us to Boston.

      From there we made passage to Virginia.
      From there I took it upon myself to sail with Vry to Orleans as soon as a ship could be found.

      We stood on the dock near Orleans as he inquired, in French of all things, of the locals as to where his people were, asking for them by name.
      The man he spoke to nodded briskly and replied with speech that was almost a song.
      Vry was smiling like the sun when he came back to me. "They are here." He said. "Thank you." He said and bowed humbly.
      "Thank you." I said. And I could not help it. I extended my hand to him. "If I ever come this way again. I would like to see you again."
      He took my hand firmly. "It would be my honor to have you in my home."
      The ship sailed on the next tide back to Virginia with its cargo of trade goods.

      It is fitting that this is the last page of the journal I acquired in Maine.
      And it is fitting that I write this at the Inn where I first met Master O'Bianco for our voyage.
      Where I was optimistic about the future of my home colony and my role in it I am now much darker. I see the house servants who had just been brought here and sold by a Dutch trader and wonder if it is right for them to be owned. If it were not for Vry, I would not be here, having been hanged by the Little Prince of Maine.
      Furthermore. I hereby resolve that if I cannot change what I now see as injustice, I will not have a role in it. Since England and the Colony of Massachusetts are now pursuing their claim to Maine as far north as the St Croix, I will go there and work to establish a settlement on the same river I swam across with a French haversack on my head to keep it dry.
      And maybe sometime, if not here then in the long future I will see my friend, Vry, again.

Virginia Colony


[Note: All rights reserved, including the right to further publication. Distributed copies to proofreaders and editors remain property of the author. No infringement of copyright is intended. All persons are fictitious, all historical events (i.e. Queen Anne's war, the first sale of slaves in the new world) actually happened.
Email- dr_leftover{~at~}themediadesk{~dot~}com   Selah ]
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