[Author's note: CJC thank you very much for your review- that was some information I would never have known and I will definitely use it so thank you.]
"How would you like to go to Charleston one week?" Phillip asked me a few nights later as we were eating our dinner. Or, I should say, he was eating and I was pushing my food around on one of the china bowls that had made the voyage with us. I'd carefully packed the dinner setting in my trunk in between layers of clothes. It had been one of the only things that Phillip's family had handed down from one generation to the next. The contents of his home in London were still there with his aging mother and as much as we would have loved to have brought some of the lovely furniture over with us there was no way we could get it onto the ship.
I took a mouthful of stew before replying. I'd cooked up some of the last of the pork Phillip had brought when last in town and had included cabbage and root vegetables like potatoes, turnips and parsnips I grew in our garden. After dinner we would have a hot chocolate drink with the last of the imported cocoa beans we'd found in the city on the beginning of our trek out here.
I knew Phillip was trying to cheer me up. Strangely despite the numbness I'd felt since the baby's death I found myself excited about the idea of a visit to Charleston. It was a bit of a trek and would probably take us close to two days to get there with an overnight stop in the nearest town which was the one where Phillip went to get supplies regularly. "That would be nice." I admitted. We had not landed in Charleston despite the fact that it would have been quicker, instead we'd landed further up and after the few months of hard work in the fine homes by the harbor had made the long voyage in the wagon.
It was a strange feeling to have everything you owned in an entire country packed in the back of a wagon. Most covered wagons were drawn by oxen but we had saved that extra money and we had two horses to draw the wagon so it was a little quicker and should one horse die we would not be left marooned in the middle of nowhere. Our Conestoga wagon was made of oak and had a hickory tongue out the front which was connected to the yoke of the horses. There were 6 wooden hoops on the wagon and the canvas was pulled across the hoops to keep out the rain, wind, and the hot sun. Oil was rubbed on the canvas regularly to keep it waterproof. Inside the wagon were hooks hung from the wooden hoops from which we hung clothes, the gun, and some of the crockery and milk cans. The front wheels of the wagon were smaller than the back wheels which helped the wagon turn and underneath the back wheels was a bucket full of grease hanging from the axle to keep the wheels running smoothly.
It had been a long and hard journey. Sometimes it felt like we travelled for hours and hours and didn't even go anywhere, other times we'd be bogged down in mud. And we often passed bones of long-dead oxen or horses and broken down wagons. Sometimes we'd meet other people and we'd be travelling the same way as they were for awhile before we would inevitably go our separate ways and other times we could travel for days and days without seeing another soul. I had always been content with my own company and Phillip was often a man of few words. He was the strong and silent type. Also content with his own company but he'd had a solitary childhood whereas I had been surrounded by family. It had often been hard to find a space of my own and peace and quiet and so I would take a book into the fields and allow myself to be caught up in a different world. My mother's education had been rudimentary at best partly because she was a woman, partly because her family did not have much money. My father as the only son of six children had received a good education and his sisters had not and thus he had determined that all of his children would have good educations- regardless of their sex. And so my sister and I, and our five brothers, all had some education. While my older sister tolerated learning with bad grace I thrived on it. I realized early on reading could take me to another world, another time, another universe even. One day my Mum had been brushing my hair. "All your female ancestors have loved to read and learn. It's one of the Hamilton women's gifts." She'd said.
"What's the other?" I'd asked.
My mum's hands had stilled for a moment and then began to brush again though her strokes were not so tender this time. "The other what?" She'd asked.
"Gift." I'd said.
"Impatience and impetuousness." Mum had said but I had known she was changing the subject. At the time I hadn't known what the second word meant but I'd known the first. And I knew I was impatient.
I hadn't known what the other gift was and my Mum had never spoken about it but I worked it out on my own. The first time I'd seen something I'd spoken of it to Mum. I'd expected her to dismiss it, or change the subject but to my surprise she hadn't.
"We are going to talk about it just this once Joanna. And then we will never again and I am sure you will understand me when I tell you I will deny this conversation ever happened. This is not the time for people like you knowing things you do. It is a gift of the women in this family- not all of the women, so far as I know your sister does not have the gift and I did not have it. My grandmother did and she claimed it was more a curse than a gift. She said to me imagine knowing when your family members will all die, how they will die, but not being able to prevent it-"
"But if she knew Mum why didn't she do anything to stop them?" I'd interrupted.
Mum had shaken her head. "Because fate and destiny are fate and destiny and if you prevented one thing from happening two things would happen. A curse indeed." She'd answered me.
"So what's the point then?" I'd demanded.
"You can know if a person's intentions are good or bad, you can know if you are on the right path, if the man you like is the man fate has destined you to be with forever. You may not prevent life or death but you could make sure that you were happy and do the right thing for yourself and your family." Mum had answered.
For perhaps ten minutes we had talked about seeing and how careful I must be to never let on to another person- not even family, not even a friend or someone I trusted implicitly. Mum mentioned two of my ancestors who had died for their gift. It was before the 1735 act of parliament made witchcraft no longer punishable by law. Mum stressed that just because someone could sense things, using their third eye, did not mean that they were witches, did not even mean witches existed. She told me about Ariana, who had fallen to the inquisition in 1255. Mum told me what she knew about Ariana and how she had been found guilty of heresy at an inquisitorial procedure after having been tortured so long that she had confessed to stop the pain after the then Pope Innocent IV's papal bull which specifically authorized the use of torture by the Inquisition. Ariana had suffered the fate of many women and died for her supposed sins. And then there was Adriana who had suffered the same fate as her ancestor in 1521 during the protestant reformation, and this despite the fact that her second cousin was a lady in waiting to a few of King Henry VIII's queens and was well liked and regarded. Perhaps luckily for Jane Adriana was from the Spanish side of the family and thus not linked with her second cousin once removed. Suddenly the Catholic authorities had begun to suspect heresy in any new ideas even those of renaissance humanism which had previously been strongly supported by many at the top of the church hierarchy. Mum did not say whether Adriana had been guilty as charged however.
Afterwards we had never again spoken of the things I knew and though on occasions I had wanted to tell Phillip I had remembered Mum's warning and the fate of my ancestors and kept my mouth shut. At first I had not wanted to tell Phillip because though I had known I could trust him intrinsically I had not known whether he would protect me no matter what.
The moment I had met Phillip I had known, deep in my soul, that I could trust him and that he would love me and protect me. But I had also known that I would never put him in that position. And when we moved to America my mother had expressed concern. "You are not safe there. People like you are not safe there." She had said.
"Mum I shall be safe because I know to be careful and not speak of this. You taught me that. That this is something to be ashamed of-" I'd snapped.
"I did not say that in any way, shape or form." Mum had interrupted me. "I said we would not speak of it for your protection, not for mine. Do you think I want to lose a child to…the curse?"
"Of course not." I'd said impatiently. "You know that wasn't what I meant. But Mum I can't help but feel you think this is something to be ashamed of because you don't know what it is like."
"You think I am jealous of my own daughter then?" Mum had snapped.
I'd opened my mouth to snap back at her, but then had shut it. Mum had been cranky leading up to the wedding and my travelling to America but I had found out why the week before we were due to leave- she was expecting another child, at an age where women never expected to have anymore children, rather when they were close to expecting grandchildren. I did not know whether she had had a boy or a girl given there were no real ways to get letters sent to us out here.
At our wedding Mum had sat there sullenly and Phillip had worried she did not approve of the match after all. I'd assured him this was no so but that something else was going on. Our wedding had been basic- we had forgone a party as such to put the money towards America but my father had declared he would not see one of his daughters married without some ceremony and had invited the town to the tavern to celebrate with us after the small church ceremony where we pledged to love one another until we were parted by death and I had sworn to love, honour and obey Phillip. I had choked a little on that last word- I was hardly the obeying type but these were the new vows.
Our wedding night had been spent at a hotel in town and to say it had been awkward and fumbling was being kind. Mum had spoken to me a bit about what I should expect and to simply lie back and allow my husband his matrimonial needs as any good wife should. "Do not talk incessantly like you tend to do especially when nervous." She had added with a wry smile.
I'd asked would it hurt terribly and Mum had hesitated. "I will not lie. It is not particularly comfortable that first time but your comfort is immaterial. The act of lying with a man is primarily to conceive a child and give your husband many children and heirs. And if you conceive on your wedding night all the better because when you are at certain stages of pregnancy you cannot lie with your husband so you have some time off." She had said.
I'd laughed at her. "Mum you make it sound like a job." I'd said.
She'd smiled slightly. "It is a job Joanna. Being Phillip's wife is your job." She'd answered.
After the wedding night I'd been a bit sore and stiff but I had still been happy because suddenly I was a woman. Future times with Phillip had been less and less uncomfortable and, to my shock, I had found myself enjoying it as he seemed to be a considerate lover- and from talk I had heard most men were not so considerate, they put their pleasure above anything else.
"You brazen hussy." Phillip had said, one morning when we lay in bed after coupling, something that- to my shock- I had found myself initiating. He'd reached out and gently tugged a strand of my hair.
I knew I was lucky to have a husband who was loving, considerate, and caring and by the time we began our journey in the wagon I knew I loved him completely.
I was brought back to the present when Phillip nodded, and swallowed a mouthful of his cider. "We shall have to time it between planting but perhaps we could leave in a week or two." He said.
"I shall look forward to it." I said, and I knew I would. For a time I could perhaps forget my troubles.
And it would be good for Phillip to have some time away from the land too. He was up before dawn and not back in the house until dusk. Before we had left England he had not had to work so hard. The two months between our wedding and our making the journey to the coast to make our passage had seen us working to save money for the tickets but it wasn't like the work we did when we were here in America. Our life back home in England was so different to our life here. Not only did we have family and friends and neighbors but the horrendous eight and a half week journey on the ship had turned us off the idea of one day going home and we had thought to send the money to Phillip's mother to come and join us but after making the journey ourselves we did not know whether she would survive it. I had lost count of the number of deaths on board. The worst thing to see was women suffering in confinement with their child. I had been told- though thankfully had not witnessed it personally- of a woman who was due to give birth and couldn't give birth under the circumstances of a heavy gale was pushed through a loophole in the ship and dropped into the sea. I did, however, see many parents witness their children suffering miserably and dying from hunger, thirst or sickness with measles and chickenpox killing young children who had not yet had the diseases and cast into the water while their grieving parents stood by unable to give their child a resting place in the earth.
We had been some of the lucky ones on board- not only had we not lost a child or each other but many of the immigrants were too poor to pay for their passage and thus indentured themselves to wealthier colonialists, selling their services for a period of years in return for the price of the ticket.
When the ship made land in the harbor only those who could or had paid for their passage or can give good security are allowed to leave. Those who can't pay remain onboard until they were purchased and released from the ships by their purchasers. The sick always fared the worst since the healthy are naturally preferred and purchased first and the sick often would remain on board the ship in front of the city for two or three weeks whereupon many would die. And many parents were forced to sell and trade away their children like animals because if the children would take the debt upon themselves the parents could leave the ship free but as the parents often wouldn't know where their children were they may not see them again.
And if a husband or wife has died at sea when the ship has travelled more than half the passage the survivor would have to pay not only for themselves but also for the deceased. When both parents would die over halfway their children must stand for their own and their parents' passages and serve until they are twenty-one years old. When they had served their term they were entitled to a new suit of clothes at parting.
Having made the journey how could we, Phillip had asked, condemn his mother who was not in the best of health to the same journey? The seasickness was just one thing, but the chance of dysentery, fever, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, mouth rot and the constant lice infestations was another. Perhaps when we made plenty of money and prices of a ticket had yet again halved as they had between 1720 and the 1790's and the voyage was quicker or more comfortable we could do it, Phillip had said.
I had lived with her and Phillip for those two months and I knew she had not approved of the fact that I had made money by taking in the washing of many of the street and looking after the children and teaching them to read when the mothers could not look after so many children or read themselves. But my money had meant instead of it taking us three months to save up the rest of the money we needed for our passage and to eventually buy a claim when we'd earn some more in America and Phillip was anxious to begin our new life. Occasionally she'd sniffed and said she didn't hold with a woman working when her job should be keeping home for her new husband. I'd replied that I hardly needed to do that when she was doing such a fine job and she'd known it was not a strict compliment but to get annoyed would only make her look petty in front of her beloved son,.
The two months had felt like two years and though I'd been less than enthusiastic about America at first by the time we paid for our tickets I had gained a newfound appreciation for the idea from being across the ocean from my mother-in-law.
I'd not said anything but had found myself somewhat secretly relieved that we would not have my mother-in-law come to live with us. I'd only known her a short time and I had often felt as though she was constantly sizing me up and finding me wanting and judging me as not good enough for her son. But perhaps for a mother no girl was good enough for their son. I'd wondered at the time whether I would earn her approval and whether I would be the same should I have a son.
After the death of our second child I'd known we would have more children but I often lay awake at night wondering whether this land would kill all children and whether it would kill Phillip, myself or our entire family too.