Sunday, November 15, 2015

Turtle Island, Part 2 - The Pact

I had sailed in the Hermione before, but this was my first time in command and everything seemed new and exciting. We enjoyed fair weather all the way to Saint Martins. My mission was to meet with the head of the Van Hendriks House, a respected Dutch trading firm, and secure an agreement regarding commerce between our Houses. I arrived in port and that same evening I dined with Abraham Van Hendriks. After dinner we retired to his library to discuss business. I presented my proposal and was surprised by his response. Instead of a negotiation, he said he would accept my terms as stated if I would assist him in a personal matter. A year earlier he had arranged what he thought was a fine marriage for his only daughter, Margarate, to a wealthy planter. This man, Colbert, had come to the islands five years before and had established his plantation on a small, uninhabited island. He named his new home Turtle Island, and spent lavishly on a fine home and 100 slaves to clear the land for growing sugar cane.  


At first all seemed well with Margarate. Van Hendriks ships that brought supplies to the island and returned with cargoes of sugar always brought a letter from her full of little details about her household. More recently, the letters hinted at her husband’s drunkenness and cruelty. He and his overseer worked the slaves brutally. She had only the company of her maid, Martha and the housekeeper, a black freewoman named Mary for consolation. Margarate knew not where her husband might turn his rage next, and feared for her safety. Van Hendrik wanted to bring his daughter home, but to send one of his own ships would attract attention and turn the matter into a public scandal. The favor he asked of me was to transport his trusted friend Doctor Menting to Turtle Island to quietly bring his daughter home. This all seemed a simple enough task to secure a very favorable agreement with Hendriks, so I agreed and Hendriks promised to have his people, Menting and Hector at the dock in time to sail with the morning tide two days hence.


At the appointed time Hendriks people arrived. Doctor Menting was a young man, tall and thin with an easy smile and a look of a university student about him. His companion, the German Hector, was an odd duck. He was not a young man, but looked to be a man of action. I was a bit unsettled to see both men had included a musket among their gear. And so we set off for Turtle Island. Our destination was but two days easy sailing to the North West, which gave me time to get acquainted with my passengers. Menting was a fine fellow with a great store of interesting tales. Hector was quiet but, despite his well worn clothes, a gentleman and very widely travelled.


 In due course we arrived off Turtle Island. As we coasted around to the dockside we had a view of the cane fields. We could see a few of the slaves moving about but no one was working the fields. I hadn’t thought much about it until I saw Hector leaning on the rail and watching. While I didn’t see anything worth observing he was taking in every detail. We tied up at the dock and disembarked. I decided to accompany Menting and Hector. For insurance I brought two of my most steady men and we armed ourselves with muskets as Menting and Hector were. Just to the right of the docks was a small warehouse with the double doors half open. I would have passed it by but Hector suggested we look inside. As we swung the doors back the smell was overpowering. Blood had been spilled here and there was a grotesque primitive religious display of some kind that included human remains. We backed out of the shed, checked the priming on our muskets and moved inland. Hector and I were in the lead and the others close behind. We could see the house a few hundred yards off through gaps in the undergrowth. As we made our way along the path Hector tapped my forearm lightly and pointed off to our left. A single slave was approaching us. He seemed listless but clearly he had seen us and was moving our way. I called out a question to the man but he ignored me and kept shuffling toward us.

                                              "The man is sick..."

“The man is sick” said Doctor Menting. Hector leveled his musket at ten yards and put a bullet through the slave’s heart. The wretch dropped to the ground and we all looked at the German with shock and surprise. Before we could speak Hector said “He was a threat, look”. He pointed off to our right front and there were two more slaves in the same disoriented state moving toward us through the undergrowth. “Take them” he said coolly as he started to reload, and Menting and my two men stepped forward and leveled their muskets. Before they could fire the slaves lunged forward snarling like animals. My man Jim and the doctor beat one of the slaves down with their musket butts while the other slave seized my other crewman, Seth, by the hair and bit him where the neck meets the shoulder. Seth staggered back in horror as I advanced and cracked his assailants head open with my musket butt.

                                              "Take them!"

Doctor Menting moved quickly to assist Seth. He examined his wound and found it superficial. He poured water on the wound to clean it and encouraged us to move directly to the house so we could treat it properly. Hector meanwhile was crouching next to the man he had shot. He called over to Menting “Doctor, take a look at this man”. “Too late for him, I’m afraid” said Menting as he walked over and kneeled next to the corpse. “Is he dead?” I said, but Menting waved me off as he examined the man with a puzzled look on his face. At last, he looked over at Hector and said “This man has been dead for the best part of a week”. I was trying to make sense of that statement when Jim called out “They’re coming!” and we looked around to see three more slaves approaching from our right, through the undergrowth. Others could be seen in the distance between us and the house. We hesitated, none of this was expected, nothing made sense and then Hector barked “To the house! Run!” and we ran. Our assailants were slow and we were able to avoid them as we approached the house. The door swung open and a woman called to us “Come in, quickly!” We tumbled in and she slammed the door and locked it.

                                              "To the house!  Run!"

We were in the central hall of the house, where a broad stairway led to the second floor. Doorways to the left and right led to the two main rooms on the ground floor. Margarate, the maid and the cook stood in the hall staring at us. Menting approached Margarate who, of course, knew him but Hector interrupted. “You and you to the window in that room and start shooting, Menting follow me, you (this to the wounded Seth) escort the ladies upstairs and stay with them”. He had the habit of command and we all responded by moving to our assigned posts briskly. Soon muskets were firing from both front windows and two of the slaves fell in the front yard. After that initial volley, the slaves turned as if on command and shuffled away toward the undergrowth.  “Cease fire!” called Hector, I suppose to preserve our limited powder and shot, and soon our assailants were nowhere to be seen.

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