My fingertips tapped the spiral vine. Inside the stem of the wineglass, it ascended to a round funnel bowl engraved with branches festooned with grapes and leaves. One of two dozen that my wife Frances had inherited from her grandmother, we reserved its use for special occasions. This evening was, in its own way, such a time.
I'd set aside the quill pen I'd been about to dip again into the inkwell beside the stationery on which I had begun writing the story of a life, attempting to capture, in mere words, the essence of a man who, even in death, was bigger than life. It was a much more difficult task than I had imagined it might be, for my subject was a complex man who'd lived in complex times.
An hour ago, Frances had entered my study. So softly had she tread, and so caught up had I been in my reminiscences, that she'd seemed simply to appear from nowhere.
“Patrick, it's late,” she'd said. “Won't you come to bed now?”
Her beauty was so astonishing and intense that it made my heart ache, and I'd realized anew what an utterly blessed man I was to have won the heart of an angel. “I cannot.”
“You will get sick. You need your rest.”
She'd sighed, knelt before me, and gazed into my eyes. “I love you.”
I'd hugged her to me, holding her tightly. I had not trusted my voice to speak.
“You were a good friend to him, Matthew.”
“He died too young.” My voice had been hoarse.
She'd kissed me, lightly, upon the brow. “We all do, my love.”
She had gone, then, to bed, to lie awake, waiting for me. She knew that I needed time alone with my grief.
After packing and lighting my pipe with tobacco—tobacco cut from his fields—I read the words I'd written. So far, it was only this:
The year, 1841, had been rather unkind to American statesmen.
All three branches of the federal government had suffered a loss. The nation's ninth president, William Henry Harrison, died on April 4.
Preceding him, Philip Pendleton Barbour, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, passed away, on February 25. Finally, on October 21, John Forsythe, one of Georgia's two contributions to the Senate, left that august body bereaved.
Preceding him, Philip Pendleton Barbour, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, passed away, on February 25. Finally, on October 21, John Forsythe, one of Georgia's two contributions to the Senate, left that august body bereaved.
In the Old Dominion, the greatest loss of the year had occurred more recently still, with the passing of my good friend and client Patrick Turner, who'd owned The Magnolias. Under his direction, the lavish plantation's hundred and fifteen slaves had begun to transition, earlier in the year, from the exclusive cultivation of wheat to the planting and harvesting of other crops as well.
Taking a long draw upon my pipe, I leaned back in my wing chair, gathering my thoughts and sorting my memories.
It had rained earlier, and the streets beyond the room's casements were wet. The streetlamps cast flickering gaslight upon the glazed pavement, creating a sight that was, although beautiful, somehow also sad.
Idly, I stroked the blue damask upon the curled arms. I was aware—intimately aware—of the Chippendale's cushions, of its high back, even of its stop fluted front legs, as I was of the needlework rug underfoot; of the walnut shelves of precious old books; of the clock's mahogany cabinet with its feet, frame, and handle of brass; and of the warmth of the flames dancing and crackling in my study's great stone fireplace.
All these familiar things were dear to me again, for I yet possessed them. Like the wet, shining world beyond the blue-curtained windows of many panes overlooking Duke of Gloucester Street, they belonged to me, even as my beloved Frances remained my treasured wife, for I, unlike Patrick, was yet alive. My great friend was gone, and, for him, all the world had vanished, as if it had never been.
Grief swept through me at the thought of his demise and at the thought of all that he—and I—had lost.
If I could preserve, in print, a semblance of the man, he might not vanish altogether; my friend might survive his demise, after a fashion, and not be lost for all time, for all eternity.
I closed my eyes. Amid the smoke of my sweet-scented tobacco, I remembered. For some time, I sat, as one entranced, before returning to myself, still seated in my chair, as though awakened from a bittersweet dream.
Finishing my drink, I thought of pouring another glass, but decided against it. I wanted sharp memories. I needed to focus. I had to get the details right. I must create as lifelike a portrait as I could.
Taking pen in hand, I resumed my account of the life and death of my friend and client, uncertain of whether to call upon Calliope, Clio, Melpomene, or all three, and wishing that there were a muse of biography whose aid I could beseech.
I nodded toward the hundreds of acres surrounding the massive mansion in whose parlor we were seated, I in a wing chair, champagne before me, my host on a divan, across from me, brandy in his hand. “I should think, Patrick, that I would hardly need to remind you that, as a man of means, you can well afford to experiment with the cultivation of a variety of crops.”
“It seems a risky and an unnecessary enterprise and, therefore, one unwise as well.”
“Then both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were fools, according to your reckoning?”
He frowned. My rude characterization of his heroes nettled him, just as I'd intended it should do. Indeed, had we not been friends, Patrick would, no doubt, have evicted me forthwith. “How so?”
“They both did the very thing I recommend you to try.”
Looking down, he swirled the brandy in his glass. “Perhaps I will.”
“'Perhaps' never accomplishes anything.”
He arched an eyebrow. “It is a decision of some moment.”
I sipped my champagne, watching him over the ogee bowl above the glass' knopped stem. It was a simple vessel, such as a bachelor might choose. My eye strayed to the foot of the glass and its engraved script, Amicitia Aequalitas, Friendship Is Equality.
“Wheat requires little more labor than the production of peanuts and fruits, does it not?”
“So you are a planter now, as well as my attorney?”
“Your friend, as well as an attorney—and one who merely repeats words I have heard you speak yourself, in this very room.”
“A man must have a view not only to his own, but to his wife's, welfare and to the welfare of his progeny, should he have any. Wheat is a reliable crop, which pays well. Have I not also made these same remarks before, in this very chamber?”
“You have a wife? Why have you been so unkind as not to have introduced her to me—and to Mrs. Brewster, for that matter? Have I not mentioned how my wife relishes feminine companionship as much as any other of her sex?”
He blushed. “Then she may be in luck, soon enough.”
“Patrick! What news is this? Charlotte has agreed to your proposal of marriage?”
He frowned, as if to suggest that I lower my voice, although there was no one nearby but his upstairs maid, the slave Taddy, who, as far as I was aware, had retired to bed in her log-cabin quarters an hour or more ago. He looked as if he had spoken more than he'd intended, and whispered his confirmation, as if he were, in doing so, imparting a secret intended for my ears alone: “She has.”
I stared, mouth open. “We are talking about the twenty-year-old Miss Spencer from Richmond, the same lovely creature we've seen you with about town—accompanied, of course, by her quite disagreeable chaperon?”
Patrick's naturally ruddy complexion reddened the more. “The same.”
“How did you manage to win the heart of one so young and, if you will pardon my saying so, so beautiful?”
“We were talking agriculture, sir, not the affairs of my heart.”
Leaning forward, I chuckled. “Once, the two were nearly synonymous, but I see that such is no longer the case, or not entirely, at least.”
“We were discussing your suggestion that I supplement my production of wheat with the cultivation of other crops.”
“You prefer talk of crops to talk of love and holy matrimony?”
“You and Mrs. Brewster will receive invitations to the wedding, if it should come to that.”
“Invitations? What grave misdeed have I done to injure you, whom I have been proud, for years, to call 'friend' as well as 'client?'”
“Invitations, that is, as my best man and his lovely wife.”
“Ah, that is better! When shall the momentous event transpire? Mrs. Brewster will need all the notice you can provide; she'll insist upon acquiring yards of new fabric for the garments that she will have sewn just for the occasion—quite expensive ones, I fear.”
“When I know, you shall know. And, now, if you don't mind returning to the topic of conversation at hand—”
“My dear Patrick, Miss Spencer is the topic of conversation at hand.”
Ignoring me, he persisted. “Even if I were to take your advice, Matthew, I would need slaves. A plantation the size of The Magnolias cannot be worked without many hands.”
“But, then, they might be paid hands,” I countered, “and free hands.”
“Even if I reduced my wheat planting by half, in pursuit of cultivating alternative crops of the sort you mention, I should not be able to afford the emancipation of my slaves.”
“In addition, you could sell some of your land and rent other acreage, as Washington did.”
“And have tenant farmers work the soil of The Magnolias?”
“Aye, Patrick, the same way that the father of our country allowed his own fields to be worked for hire. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence proclaims the equality of all men, and Negroes are human beings as much as the members of any other race; to pretend otherwise is both foolish and hypocritical, to say the least. It was worth the bloodshed of many thousands to secure our freedom from the tyranny of King George; is it not worth an attempt, now, costing only time and money, to set free the men in bondage to you, my friend?”
“Washington did not free his slaves until his death.”
“He could not find men enough who were interested in buying or renting his lands, so he had no alternative.”
“Nor, it is likely, would I.”
“You don't know that, Patrick. Times have changed. Things are different today than they were in Washington's day. Besides, if you cannot free your slaves by these means, there is always the alternative that Washington employed.”
“Freeing them upon my death?”
The swirling glass in my friend's hand stilled. Raising it to his lips, he drank, and his eyes seemed to blaze as he swallowed the fiery amber spirit. He gathered himself, setting the glass down, drained, upon the low table before the divan upon which he sat.
From my wing chair, I waited, knowing that he had made up his mind and was now resolved upon one course of action or another with regard to the fate of the hundred and fifteen souls who labored in his fields without recompense of wages or of freedom.
“All right, by George!” he declared. “I will try your remedies, and, if they succeed, I will free as many of my slaves as I can, as soon as I can.”
“Ah! Capital, my friend, capital!” I rubbed my palms together. “And, now, we may resume our discussion of the charming Miss Spencer and the holy wedlock to which you have committed yourself for the balance of your days.”
“We will do nothing of the kind, sir, and what talk has occurred between us, you must promise me, shall not go beyond these walls.”
“But, Patrick, everyone in Williamsburg—and, for that matter, Richmond, if not the whole of the Commonwealth—knows, already, of your courtship of the splendid young lady. It's not as if it did not take place, as is proper and fitting, before the eyes of one and all for miles around our fair city!”
However, I saw that he was serious, indeed, which was an attitude I found mystifying. “What occasions the trepidation I perceive in your hesitant demeanor and your uncertain countenance?”
“At forty-five, I am more than twice her age,” he mumbled.
“Surely, she is aware of this fact, as is her father, who gave you his consent to woo his daughter?”
“Aye, but I fear that she may find me rather dull, and—”
I laughed. “You? Dull? None could make a discovery such as that, not about a man like you! The very idea is preposterous.”
“The love of a young woman may be less constant than the challenge of circumstances that she has not yet encountered.”
“Patrick, your doubts dishonor your betrothed. You are not yet wed, and, already, she is fickle?”
“Aye, fickle,” he allowed, adding, rather shamefully, I thought, after some hesitation, “or unfaithful.”
So this was the doubt that rankled him. He was anxious that his marriage, if not his wooing, might not prove to have the happy outcome for which he hoped.
“Patrick, surely you see that her father's consent and the lady's own commitment to you, which has been exclusive for a year, as well as her acceptance of your proposal, indicates both her own devotion to you and her family's acceptance of you as her spouse?”
“Aye, Matthew; I concur, but—well, that which seems sure today may prove far from certain tomorrow. She will encounter many a man more of her own age than mine, young men who are handsome and strong and more energetic than I and who have interests more in common with her own—”
“She loves you, Patrick. Do you think that she has not had many admirers before now? Do you think that she has not had numerous proposals? Do you think that she has not broken young men's hearts by the dozen?”
“Then why would she choose me?”
“Why do you suppose?”
He shrugged. Having confessed his secret fears to this degree, he seemed to have decided to hold back nothing else. “I am a man of social distinction, a man of political influence, and, as you point out, a man of means. The Magnolias alone is worth a fortune unequal to most. Her family has money and distinction, but not to the degree of my own, and such status, conferred through marriage, can secure for her all that a beautiful woman in her prime could ever want.”
I eyed him across the space between his divan and my chair. “If you have such reservations, why, pray tell, have you asked for her hand?”
“I am no longer a young man, Matthew. I shall not live forever. I wish to sire children who will carry forth my name and the heritage of my family, as heirs to my estate. And, I admit, I am not so noble of mind or heart that I do not desire the company of a young and beautiful woman who, if she does not love me now, may learn to love me over time.”
“Have you reason to doubt her love?”
“None that would pass the test of rigorous examination, but—” he hesitated.
“But I have seen her look with favor at other men, at younger, flirtatious men of abler bodies than my own.”
“I am no physician, as you know, old friend, but I think that you may well have developed a malady that is, fortunately, more wretched than it is menacing.”
Patrick looked alarmed. “What do you mean?”
I drank the rest of my champagne. “A certain sudden loss of fortitude, an onset of timidity, if you will, comes over a man, sometimes, as his wedding day approaches and he realizes the degree to which the event is likely to transform the remainder of his days and, indeed, himself. You may not have experienced such a feeling, Patrick, when you wed your first wife Shirley, God rest her soul, but I had such momentary doubts, although, as you know, Frances and I have been married, most blissfully, ever since we exchanged our wedding vows, fifteen years hence, and, I have every confidence that you and the future Mrs. Turner shall be likewise.”
The fact that Patrick's first marriage had ended in the double tragedy of his wife's death, as she gave birth to their stillborn son, leaving him, at age thirty, a childless widower who'd sworn off marriage, if not women, altogether, might have exacerbated such belated anxieties, I surmised, but I was pleased—albeit surprised—to find that this beautiful young Miss Charlotte had brought him to repentance in the matter. Patrick had much to offer a woman and a family, and he was, by nature and by disposition, a marrying man, whether he had realized as much himself in the wake of his dual calamities. All he needed was confidence in himself.
“Give me your word,” Patrick persisted, despite my assurances, “that you will say nothing of my engagement; I want no one to know until the invitations are dispatched.”
I could see that, whether he had cause to be so worried or not, he was in earnest. “I give you my word.”
He nodded gravely. “I suppose that is sufficient, although, were I as wise a man as your flattery suggests I must be, I should, perhaps, rather insist that you commit to your vow in writing.”
“Ah, but, then, we would need a witness' signature.”
“Aye, and it is for that reason that I take you, sir, at your word.”
There was a soft rap upon the open doorway, and we turned to see Taddy standing at the entrance. I was surprised, having assumed that she had retired for the night by now.
“Will Master Turner or his guest require anything more?” she asked.
“No, no, Taddy; we're fine.”
“I thought I'd go to bed, then, if that's all right with you, Master.”
“That's fine, Taddy.”
She turned to leave.
“By the way?”
She faced us. “Yes, sir?”
“Maggie—is she better?”
“Yes, sir, thank you. She's fine now. She'll be able to take over her own chores tomorrow.”
Patrick smiled. “That's good, Taddy. You may go now.”
She bowed. “Thank you, sir.”
After she'd shuffled off, I asked, “What was that about?”
“Maggie, my cook, has been sick, and Taddy has taken on both Maggie's duties and her own the past few days. I just inquired as to Maggie's health to suggest my appreciation to Taddy for her standing in for Maggie. It can't be easy to cook and clean both, especially at her age.”
“How old is Taddy?”
Patrick looked embarrassed. “No one knows for certain,” he admitted, “not even Taddy herself, but she suspects that she's approaching seventy.”
“Shouldn't she be taking things easy?”
“I've tried to convince her to do just that, but she claims leisure would kill her. She doesn't know how to relax. Hard work is all she's ever known.” He sighed. “I wish I could remedy that. Taddy has been more like an aunt than a servant; she helped to raise me, along with her own sons, Jake and Ben. The most I've been able to do is to make her the supervisor of a younger maid, Bessie, whose presence in the household Taddy only reluctantly accepts.
“I think Taddy wants to stay active because she fears that I might sell her off if I thought she was of no use, and she does not, of course, want to be separated from her sons. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, Matthew. She has a home here for as long as she likes, whether she does another day's work or not. To provide her a home is the least, the very least, that I can do.”
“Her freedom, if it coincides with that of her sons and many of the other slaves she has come to know and love as a family over the long years of her servitude will allow her to retire in peace,” I observed.
“Aye, if anything would give her peace—and rest—it would be such an act, and, as I say, it shall be done, if possible. However, I will not change the terms of my will to reflect their emancipation until I am certain that our scheme of planting alternative crops and renting and selling land proves financially feasible.”
I nodded. Here was a man, I thought, who would free his slaves before his death, if it were possible to do so.
Our talk, both of agriculture and of marriage, bore fruit.
The next season, besides the narrow, green rows of dense, thick-leafed tobacco and the great seas of golden wheat that Patrick grew, peanuts and fruits, of the tree, if not yet of the vine, more and more appeared. In addition to strawberries, he'd planted a vineyard. Despite setbacks and the heat of humid summers, the vines had survived, if not thrived. Unfortunately, it would be at least three years before they would produce a crop sufficient for the fermentation of a Virginia wine and many more, perhaps, before their vintage would fit for sale to sophisticated and discerning palates. Otherwise, perhaps we would have drunk the fruit of his vines in our toasts to the health and happiness of him and his bride.
A year after he had asked Charlotte's father for permission to court his daughter, the lord of The Magnolias had proposed, Miss Spencer had accepted, and, six months later, they wed in a lavish ceremony at her father George's estate outside Richmond, before a gathering of nearly a hundred guests.
I had kept my promise, breathing not a word of Patrick's engagement. Consequently, our invitation to the wedding surprised—and thrilled—Frances as much as her friends were thrilled to receive theirs—and as much as I myself pretended to be. At once, Frances undertook a shopping spree, buying enough fabric and trimmings to fill an entire new wardrobe. I was glad that Patrick was Catholic, for, according to his faith, he should wed but once, sparing me, thus, from the fate of the pauper.
The affair took place in April, and Charlotte, looking ravishing in a brown gown accentuated with gold trim, wore jasmine blossoms and camellias and carried a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses.
She'd chosen Tuesday, the proverbial day of wealth, which seemed appropriate, since her dress had cost her father a small fortune in itself, Frances reckoned, describing it to me as fashioned of Chantilly lace and French watered silk and as having a fitted bodice, a narrow waist, and a full skirt. The veil was Chantilly lace as well. Frances had seen similar gowns depicted in Godey's Lady's Book. She'd priced the fabrics herself, during a visit to Richmond, but the cost—$700 for the dress material and another $200 for the veil—had dissuaded her. Apparently, however, Mr. Spencer—or his daughter, at any rate—had not been dissuaded by such expenses.
The cost of the bride's costume was only the beginning of the expenses that Mr. Spencer had incurred, for Charlotte's party included her sixteen-year-old sister, Belle, as her maid of honor, two junior bridesmaids, and half a dozen flower girls, each of whom wore long white muslin dresses tied with ribbon sashes that matched their shoes and stockings.
At additional expense for the father of the bride, there were roles for Charlotte's two young brothers, James and John, who attended her train, dressed in the manner of the pages of Old World courts, wearing velvet suits—green jackets and short trousers, and, I thought, rather comical round linen collars fitted with huge bows of white crepe de chine.
Their doleful expressions suggested that they found their attire quite humiliating, and I'm sure that their white silk hose and fancy shoes, complete with buckles, could only have added to their mortification. It could have been worse for the unfortunate lads, though, Frances assured me, for such costumes often include matching velvet hats, which, in the case of the bride's brothers, had been omitted.
As the groom, Patrick fared better than his bride's male attendants, having to don only a frock coat of mulberry hue, a white waistcoat, trousers of lavender doeskin, and a rose from his beloved's bouquet, worn upon his lapel.
I am proud to say that I, as the groom's best man, was attired in a fashion similar to that of my friend's, although, by design, of a color more subdued, and without the addition of a flower favor upon my breast.
Some two months after their wedding, when Charlotte had moved to The Magnolias and had settled into the routines of her household, Frances called upon her, in our coach, inviting Mrs. Turner on a tour of the town. Charlotte had been many places with Patrick, both during their courtship and after their marriage, my wife had advised me, but the newlywed hadn't had the opportunity to discover the fine shops, salons, gardens, and other places of particular interest to the sex. Frances had offered to remedy this situation, and Charlotte had readily accepted.
“I shall be glad to see something other than wheat, servants, and livestock!” she told Frances, as they approached the waiting coach.
“But The Magnolias is such a beautiful plantation,” Frances objected.
“So is a gilded cage to a canary, perhaps,” the young woman replied, “but, beautiful or not, a cage is still a cage. Besides, I'm not a bird.”
The driver, having helped his mistress and her guest into the conveyance, asked what destination they had selected.
To their driver, Frances called out directions, and they were off.
While Patrick's wife and mine toured the town, he and I paid a visit to one of our favorite establishments, Raleigh Tavern. Located half a block east of Botetourt Street, upon Duke of Gloucester Street, it is one of more than a score of other taverns and inns in Williamsburg, which includes (or, in some lamentable cases, had, at one time, included) Market Square Tavern, Brick House Tavern, Chowning's Tavern, King's Arms Tavern, Wetherburn's Tavern, The Red Lion, and Burdette's Ordinary. However, Raleigh Tavern is not only one of the most splendid, but it is also the most historically significant—an institution more than a place of mere entertainment and refreshment, numbering among the illustrious guests of its past men of no less stature than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, and Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau!
Indeed, it was here that, in 1774, when the Royal Governor, John Murray, earl of Dunmore, dissolved the House of Burgesses, barring its members from the Capitol, the state's legislators convened. It has remained a cultural and historical institution ever since, even after the capital was moved to Richmond in 1780.
Shaped like an “L,” the edifice presents a long facade behind stately trees, its white weatherboards bright with sunlight and dappled with shade. Over its main doorway is a bust, of lead, of the man from whom the establishment takes its name, Sir Walter Raleigh himself.
From other angles, the tavern presents equally attractive views. Its western facade, for instance, bearing a dozen dormer windows, all in a row, and spouting one of the building's many massive brick chimneys, houses the famous Apollo and Daphne Rooms.
Within the former chamber's powder-blue, paneled walls, Jefferson danced minuets, and perhaps even reels and quadrilles, with Rebecca Burwell of Carter's Grove, his “fair Belinda,” as he called her, a beautiful young belle with whom he was seriously smitten, but lost, alas, to his friend Jacquelin Ambler. Despite his loss at love, Jefferson would have agreed, perhaps, with the maxim carved into the room's fireplace: Hilaritas sapientiae et bonae vitae proles, which translates, according to my understanding of Latin, loosely, as “jollity is the child of wisdom and the good life.”
Washington dined frequently by candlelight, amid the exotic Chinese décor of the Daphne Room, his meals made delightful and memorable, no doubt, by the gold damask curtains, the Chinese-patterned wallpaper, the elegant mahogany table braced with Old English chairs, and the twin walnut cellarets flanking the woodwork-framed fireplace.
Grace and beauty adorned the tavern's yard as well, offering formal gardens, lawns enclosed by picket fences, beds of flowers, picturesque paths and nearby lanes perfect for couples' midnight strolls beneath a full moon, and the covered well from which the tavern's supply of water is drawn for those who prefer coffee or tea to the tavern's famed Arrack punch or fine Madeira wine—or, in Patrick's case, its brandy.
The one aspect associated with the tavern that was odious, to my way of thinking and to Patrick's, at least, were the auctions of slaves and indigent women on the sidewalk outside the hostelry. They were sold into slavery or what amounts to indentured servitude, respectively, together with livestock, coaches, and confiscated property, before a crowd of festive, if not, indeed, drunken spectators who conducted themselves, at times, more as if they were in attendance at a fair than at such a shameful and detestable event. It was to such sales that Patrick and I were determined to put an end.
Our opposition to slavery, of course, would not go unchallenged, for it adversely affected the livelihoods of many others. Indeed, slaves made up a vast majority of the wealth of Virginians, and slavery was the basis for regulating the value of all other property. One of the principal beneficiaries of the wealth that slavery conferred upon the Southern gentry was the detestable Leland Marsh. A slave trader, Marsh had imported not hundreds, but thousands, of African men, women, and children across the Atlantic Ocean, prior to the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves, which became effective in 1808.
Chained in the sweltering, overcrowded holds of ships, they had endured such hardship and deprivation during their miserable passage that some did not survive the forced journey. After 1808, rather than flout the law and risk a death sentence, Marsh began to purchase slaves from owners—often the sick, the lame, and the aged—at discounted prices at auctions in Williamsburg and elsewhere and to sell them for profit to the states of the deep South, where cotton crops created a lucrative market for Marsh's “commodity.”
As a result, many slave families were broken, as children and siblings were separated forever. Marsh, who had made a handsome living on the misery of Africans he imported in the old days continued to live well today by his adoption of this equally cruel expedient. Slaves feared nothing more than to be separated from their loved ones, and they begged and pleaded, to no avail, both to their masters, the sellers, and to Marsh and his confederates, the buyers. It was to prevent his own slaves from suffering such a fate that Patrick was determined, one way or another, to free them—during his own lifetime, if possible, after his death, if necessary, and preferably sooner than later.
We could be found, when not dining with our wives, in the tavern's bar. It is paneled in pine, and its small tables are surrounded by captain's chairs, grouped like small islands, in the center of the room, amid cabinets and sideboards, an arched corner fireplace without a mantle radiating warmth and light, with unobtrusive portraits of mounted knights and landscapes on the walls. Chandeliers bearing candles illuminate the room, which is, nevertheless comfortably dim and shadowed because of the paneling.
The bar itself is truly barred; the bartender is able to protect his stock of liquor from pilferage when called away briefly to attend to other duties by lowering a wooden wicket inside the wooden frame which forms the upper part of the bar, rising from its counter to a height but inches below the ceiling.
Venetian blinds hang at the windows, helping to keep the room dark and sealed off from the concerns of everyday life. It was here, among businessmen, soldiers, planters, merchants, and bon vivants that Patrick and I now sat, they with their pewter mugs of ale, I with my champagne, and Patrick with his inevitable glass of brandy, smoking our pipes and discussing commerce, militia matters, agriculture, and, of course, Patrick's passion, politics.
Much to Charlotte's consternation, Patrick was, in her view, rather too regular a patron of this establishment. Her concern was not without cause, perhaps. Her husband's visits to the tap house occurred nearly as often as had those of his illustrious grandfather, the late Brigadier General Sean Turner, whose exploits during the Revolutionary War had made him as much a hero to the Commonwealth as were his fellow Virginians Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee.
According to Patrick, Charlotte ascribed the frequency of her husband's patronage of Raleigh Tavern to his fondness for drink and to his preference for the rowdy—and, no doubt, bawdy—company of his political cronies to that of her own sober and decidedly more domesticated companionship. There was some truth in her view. Patrick loved brandy, but he adored politics. Apart from The Magnolias, he had no greater passion than the latter. Poor Charlotte was but a distant third in the affairs of her husband's heart—not because, as she thought, he was her senior, but because campaigning for office, if not the actual day-to-day obligations associated with it, was more intoxicating to him than liquor or, for that matter, even the comely charms of his young wife.
This night, I can personally attest, Patrick was certainly rather more intoxicated than usual, having drunk many glasses of his favorite spirit during the course of the afternoon, as he argued politics with friends and foes alike, chief of whom, among the latter, was Danny O'Bannon.
Principally, their arguments concerned slavery. O'Bannon was for the preservation of the institution, Patrick against it. Because the issue divided nearly all citizens of the Old Dominion, as it did many of those of the other states, North and South alike, both Patrick, the incumbent, and his rival for the seat that my friend occupied in the House of Delegates had many supporters among these respective factions of the townspeople, quite a few of whom among the most influential were met with us here this day.
“A creature who bears the human likeness, who speaks the language of men, and who feels the same passions as we ourselves feel is as much a man as we,” Patrick declared, “and, if he bears a human likeness, he is made, moreover, in the very image of God Himself. It cannot be right to keep a man in chains, compelled for all his days into forced servitude and without liberty or the other rights with which he is endowed by his Creator, for the sole cause that the color of his skin differs from that of our own. It is preposterous, and it is wrong.”
“Here, here!” I chimed in, lifting my glass of champagne. “To freedom for all!”
Of the men assembled there with us, a dozen took up the toast. More than twice that number, however, did not, some because they sided with O'Bannon, others because they feared to identify themselves as being against an institution that is vital to the welfare of the South, and still others because they were undecided.
“Aye, you're so dead-set against it that you own well over a hundred slaves yourself!” O'Bannon sneered.
Like many political rivals, the big Irishman was a rough-and-tumble adversary. He wasn't above straddling—or, at times, even crossing—the line between public decency and social impropriety. If he saw a political advantage in pressing an attack, O'Bannon would leap at the chance, the justice of his charge be damned.
I glared across the room at O'Bannon. Although there was truth in his remark, it was, nevertheless, an unfair comment. I challenged him, calling out loudly, “A man of principle must eat, just as he must provide for the welfare of his wife and his progeny, if any. To do so in the South—and, indeed, parts of the North as well—most landowners must also own slaves. Patrick is no more responsible for the agricultural basis of the South's economy or the nature of its labor force than you yourself, O'Bannon!”
Patrick agreed. “While slavery is repugnant to me, it is, unfortunately, also an economic necessity for me, at least for the present. Not everyone, after all, has the luxury of being able to live a life of leisure, as you do, O'Bannon, thanks to the generous inheritance that you have received from your wealthy European forebears.”
Patrick, I knew, had already taken measures to afford the emancipation of his slaves. A tavern, though, is no place to discuss personal and private affairs. Unwilling to share his plans in such a public forum, Patrick spluttered, “All things come of their own time, Danny O'Bannon, and so will the end of the detestable institution that is slavery.”
“Although you yourself will expend no effort—or personal cost—to bring about its demise,” his rival charged.
“You have no idea what I do or do not do in that regard, O'Bannon,” Patrick replied, “but all Williamsburg knows the extent to which you are indebted to those who would preserve the institution of slavery, including the likes of the unscrupulous slave trader Leland Marsh. He has increased the misery of thousands, separating mothers and fathers from their children, and brothers from brothers and sisters from sisters, selling family members to plantations hundreds and hundreds of miles from their places of birth. This man is the chief donor to your campaign, upon whose support and endorsements you depend and of which you proudly proclaim.”
“And, yet, I own no slaves, as you yourself admit. I support the economy of Williamsburg and our Commonwealth. You would sell your neighbors into poverty before you would allow the sale of a slave, though the welfare of the the whole South depends upon such commerce. It is you, Turner, who are the enemy of this town, this state, and this country—and it is you who are the hypocrite, not I!”
Before I could hold him back, Patrick launched himself from his seat, overturning his chair with a clatter, and sprang across the distance separating him from the bully who harangued him. The men, both red-faced, stood nearly toe to toe, fists clenched and jaws set.
A brawl surely would have erupted, had Edward Ross, one of Patrick's friends, not intervened. “This must be a first,” he observed, his eyes merry and bright in the light of the tavern's great hearth, radiant with the heat of an immense, crackling fire, “someone who advocates slavery censuring another, who calls for its abolition!”
Laughter, at first nervous, and then genuine, filled the tap house.
The adversaries glared, even as their supporters drew them away, advising them that fisticuffs was not the way to settle their dispute. News of a fistfight in such an esteemed place as Raleigh Tavern, especially if there should be damage to the furnishings or décor or injuries to any assembled, would serve neither of them well when it was reported, as it most definitely would be, in either The Virginia Reaper, The Old Dominion Chronicle, or both. Seething, the would-be combatants allowed themselves to be withdrawn.
“Your views are not in sympathy with the majority of this community,” O'Bannon charged, “nor with those of Southern gentlemen in general, for that matter, and they will cost you your seat in the House come election time.”
“We will see,” Patrick replied, his tone even, now that he had recovered himself, despite his rage, “come election time.”
“You, not Matthew Brewster, should be Patrick's campaign manager!” George McBride cried, clapping Ross on the back. “Have another drink, on me!”
“Thanks, George, but I'd better be getting home.” He studied Patrick, who was studying, and being studied by, O'Bannon. “What do you say, Patrick? Don't you think it's time you were getting home to Mrs. Turner? Come along; I'll ride with you, as far as Nicholson Street. You're on your own from there.”
“You are a friend, indeed, but that's unnecessary,” I advised Edward, “for I rode out with Patrick, and I shall see him home.”
He eyed me dubiously. “Do you think you are sober enough, either of you, Matthew, to ride?”
“We haven't far to go, and, sober or in our cups, both Patrick and I are accomplished horsemen.”
“Aye, and the cemeteries are full of accomplished horsemen who have drunk too freely at the liquor trough before mounting their horses for a ride home from a public house, I fear.”
“They were not as accomplished in the saddle as I, and they were certainly not the match of a rider such as Patrick, even should they have been sober and Patrick and I more inebriated yet than we are this afternoon.”
Edward shook his head. “Well, it's your life, and, God forbid, your demise.”
“Seriously, there is no cause for concern: I have seen Patrick make such a ride with double the number of glasses of brandy in him as those he has imbibed this day. If there were the slightest danger, I should insist that he stay overnight at my house, which is just down the street, rather than ride with him the five miles southeast to The Magnolias and the ire of his wife.”
All the way to his estate, Patrick was every bit the horseman I had described him to be, as steady and as sound in the saddle as a sailor abroad upon a pitching deck.
How he would fare with Mrs. Turner—now that is a question to which I would not dare to venture a surmise, except to say that I'd wager that he was safer on horseback, upon the road home, than he would be afoot in the domicile he shared with the lovely, but not long-suffering, Charlotte.
Death in the Old Dominion
When attorney Matthew Brewster investigates his best friend Patrick Turner's death, he discovers that it was no accident. His quest for the truth uncovers political intrigue in colonial Williamsburg. The more he learns, the stranger things become. Voodoo, adultery, slavery--could any of these have led to Patrick's murder?
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