With acknowledgements to scriptwriter Robert Rodat for the characters from The Patriot (dir. Roland Emmerich, 2000), and the main thread of the plot. To the real-life characters I have used, such as Pattie, George, Ban, Frank, O'Hara, Cornwallis, Ben Thompson, & co, I can only say I hope I have not made them do anything they would not have wanted to in reality. Of necessity, Ban has had to be lowered in rank to accommodate Will Tavington as Lieutenant Colonel of the Green Dragoons. I have tried to drag the fictional universe depicted closer to historical reality, and to offer a Loyalist character's point-of-view - a perspective omitted in the film. You don't have to agree with Augusta's viewpoint, or even like her. She's not a Mary-Sue, but is the woman her experiences have made her, with a streak of her father's violent temperament.
Being the Memoir of Augusta Martin
edited by M. M. Gilchrist
1. The Quadroon
Peachum: ...Do you think your mother and I should have liv'd comfortably so long together, if ever we had been married?
John Gay, The Beggar's Opera, 1728
I called my father by that name but once in my life, and that day I held a pistol in my hand and vengeance in my heart.
In 1753, when I was born, my grandfather Daniel Martin wrote my name in the great brass-locked Bible, brought from England by his French-born father when this dying century was young.1 He named me Augusta, for the month was August. Yet I was not listed among the family of his blood, but among his property:
"Augusta, dtr. to Abigale, Mulatto, house slave."
That Bible lies in ashes now, the house likewise.
My grandfather had bought my mother when she was thirteen, from Squire Drayton, her own father, at the Charlestown auction block. My father was an only son, heir to a prosperous, though not extensive tobacco and corn plantation: a wild young man, prone to violent passions. It was thus that I was begotten, when he was about twenty, and she seventeen.
My Mother told me often how in my infancy, Old Squire Martin made a pet of me, and dandled me on his knee, his "little yaller girl". But when I was three years old, he died, and there were no more games by the hearth or on the porch. My father came into his inheritance. I was raised to call him 'Master' and 'Sir', for he needed fine, white children who in turn would inherit his fine, white house. And so he married a fine, white lady from Charlestown, Mrs. Eliza.
One of my earliest memories is of her arrival at Fresh Water after the wedding. All the slaves were lined up outside to greet the new Mistress, and I recall the sighs as she stepped down from the trap, a golden-haired girl in a wide-hooped skirt of strawberry-hued taffeta. She greeted each in turn, although, of course, none looked her in the eye, for that would have been a punishable insolence. My mother was introduced to her as "cook and housekeeper". I tugged at the Missus's skirts, and she bent down to speak to me:
"Why, hello! What a sweet little child! Such pretty curls and big brown eyes!"
"That's Augusta, Abigale's child," said the Master, in the same tone he used presently when he introduced her to his gun-dog.
"Darlin' little Gussie!" she smiled, patting my head as if I were a puppy.
"'Gusta!" I countered (all my life I have detested being called 'Gussie'), and pouted.
"Oh, how charming! - Benjamin, do let me raise her!"
And so when the Master went off to war a few months later, leaving her with child, Mrs. Eliza made a living doll of me as the Old Master had done. She was a well-meaning, sweet-natured woman - and yet 'twas she who put a sword into my hands... She decided that, since I was intelligent and "of goodly appearance" (that is to say, what the auction bills describe as a "high yellow" quadroon), no darker than a Spaniard or indeed some of the other Huguenot families in these parts, I should be trained to be the best rank of lady's maid or even a governess. Over the years, between her many confinements, she taught me to read and write, how a lady dresses for every occasion, how she should conduct herself in Society. When the Master protested at her 'spoiling' me, she would say, "She'll fetch a better price, and, with her parentage, given she's so mighty near white, 'twouldn't be fitting for her to end in a kitchen!"
"She'll end in a whorehouse if she doesn't learn to know her place, Lizzie!" he replied. (Had he known what lay ahead, I know he would liefer have seen his own daughter thus degraded.)
My training provided the Missus with amusement, immured as she was in the country. When we visited her father and sister in Charlestown, I waited on her, in one of her old gowns, with a lace cap on my head, and high-heeled slippers that pinched my toes more than the flat, mannish shoes I wore in the country. At assemblies, routs and dinners, I saw at first-hand how the gentry of South Carolina - including my white kindred - conducted themselves. Many a lady - my own was an exception - could have taken lessons in manners and morals from her maidservant.
I also helped teach the Master and Missus' children their letters. The eldest son, five years my junior, was a bright boy, though stubborn. In truth, I did not regard any of them as my brothers or sisters. I must never look them in the eye, nor answer back. I called them "Master Gabriel, Master Thomas, Missy Margaret" & c & c; they called me "Augusta" when they were in good spirits, or when they were in a peevish humour, "yaller girl", or worse... And I knew that even in their worst nightmares, they never dreamed that their own father might sell them on the auction block.
And Mother? Her loyalty was to the Master. He had returned from war a gloomy, morose man, all his old fury turned inward. When his wife was with child, as she often was, he still would come to my mother at night. And in the garret-room we shared (a privilege, for the other slaves lived in cabins behind the stables), even betimes when Mother and I shared the same mattress, he would come to her. And I would hide my head beneath the pillow to block out the animal sounds they made, and the things of which they spoke that I knew I should not hear. It was not as if, like Abraham with Hagar, he had a barren wife. Mrs. Eliza had taught me to be virtuous, for gentlewomen do not like their personal maids to play the trull. Yet in this very house, beneath the self-same roof as she slept, her husband and my mother...
Yet there were no more children from my mother. She taught me of herbs, wild and garden, that "bring down the flowers" - squawmint, southernwood, blue cohosh, herb o' grace, tansy, parsley seed - and much else besides of healing plants, of balms and poisons. "You will have a better life than I, Augusta," she told me. "There's a chance Widow Selton, the Missus's sister, will take you as lady's maid. You're trained for it, all ladylike, and when you're dressed up fine, you could pass for white. In the city, if you get a chance of freedom -"
"- When I know what it is, I'll gladly take it. And you?"
"I'm too old, chile. This life's all I know, Master and Missus. But you... You'll be free one day, I feel it here" - and she held my hand to her heart.
I wondered what her loyalty to the Master had cost her pride.
When I was twenty, and expecting to be sent out to serve the Widow Selton, the Missus died of childbed fever. No Indian sage nor Indian hyssop, squawmint, feverfew or green-ginger could save her. The child, a girl, was sickly, and put to nurse with Deborah, Caleb's woman, who had lately lost her own infant. But then, there wasn't one of the Master's white children who had not grown sturdy on a black breast.
And I? I was needed more than ever to help raise the children. There was no more lady's maid work, nor would there be till Missy Margaret was grown, but I taught, and sewed, and helped Mother nurse them through their childhood sicknesses. Sometimes we still would visit Widow Selton, but she said no more of buying me, though her old husband had left her a rich woman before she was thirty. She had a soft-voiced, simpering way with her, especially when the Master was with us, and I wondered how long it would take her to replace her sister (and my mother) in his bed.
I remember when we first sensed war was coming. When the Master and Young Masters had finished with the newspapers, I would sometimes steal them from where they had been stowed for kindling, and read aloud in the kitchen articles which I thought my fellow slaves might like to hear. We were little affected, I recall, by the first commotion about taxation from the white merchants in Boston and the cities. I saw a pamphlet by a wise man in England, a Dr. Johnson, who observed that the greatest yelps for 'Liberty' were coming from the drivers of Negroes... It was a true word he wrote, for there was no talk of freedom for any of our kind, at least not from the so-called 'Patriots'. The Young Master might amuse himself reading his translated Rousseau, but I'm sure knew as well as I that, once he inherited the plantation, he would need us, as his property, to keep him fed and clothed and pay for the luxury of his philosophy books. Man and woman are not everywhere born free. Some of us are born in chains, and live and die thus.
It was the news out of Virginia that first kindled the fire among those of us with wit to heed it. The Royal Governor of that Colony, Lord Dunmore had announced that he would free any slave who joined the King's cause to serve in an 'Æthiopian Regiment'... We spoke not a word of it to the Masters, but that day a hope began to burn within. Would South Carolina follow where Virginia led? But hope dwindled to a flickering glow as Dunmore's call served only to drive the planters of Virginia further into the arms of their lily-white 'Liberty', who had no embrace for people of colour... And the Governor fled back across the seas to Scotland, and built a house shaped like a pineapple, so I'm told.
Yet hope did not die entirely. In my heart, at least, I believed that, sooner or later, deliverance would come, and that the King's men would bring it. For four bitter years I read my Bible and I prayed, thinking of Miriam and of Moses; and I burned the candles with the charms my Mother had taught me, which her African mother had in turn taught her... And for four bitter years I watched for a pillar of smoke by day, and a pillar of fire by night...
The Young Master went away to fight under his father's old friend, Colonel Burwell, in the Continental Army (as the Rebels styled themselves) against the King's men. And still I waited. And there were battles won and lost, and the French and Spaniards made it a great war around the world's oceans, and still I waited.
I taught Missy Margaret and Masters Nathan, Samuel and William their letters, and little Missy Susan, who could or would not speak a word, yet seemed to understand. (That child was bewitched: at least, that was the rumour in the slave-quarters.)
For words are power. That is why the Bible says, "In the beginning was the Word". And that is why the Master had looked askance on his wife teaching me to read, for it's a power the Masters like to keep unto themselves. And I knew that that power would strengthen my hand in the fight to come... Even as months passed into years, I kept my faith...
It was May 1780, and I was in my twenty-seventh year, when we got word that the King's men had taken Charlestown. The Master spoke little of it, not even to my Mother, but when I read aloud from the Gazette in the kitchen, there was a stir.
"So you think the King's men will come set us free, 'Gusta?" asked Caleb, one of the stable hands.
"I hope so... I hope and pray so."
"- They ain't freein' slaves from Tory masters!" Micah retorted.
"Maybe not. But our master ain't Loyal. And every day, they're coming nearer... nearer...!"
"`Don't you talk that way, girl!" He thumped the table, and the crockery shook. "We got ourselves a good master! 'Sides, the young Master's fightin' with the Continentals!"
"- But it ain't our freedom he's fighting for! I say, if the redcoats come, we take our freedom!"
"An' if they don't?" Caleb said.
I smiled softly. "Maybe we jes' take it anyway..."
"That's hangin' talk, yaller girl!" said Micah.
"- Augusta!" Mother had come in: I knew that if she had heard what was said, she would tell the Master. "- 'Gusta, what are you talking about, chile? - This war ain't no business of ours!"
She had not heard much of what I had said, then...
"I was just wondering, suppose the fighting comes near here? What do you think the Master will do?"
"Sit tight, I reckon. We'll be safe enough, I'm sure."
But I could feel in my very bones that the hour of deliverance was drawing close...
We had scarce two weeks to wait.
At first we thought it was a storm in the distance... Cannonfire, said the Master, disapproving. I prayed all night. Come the morning, the children found dead bodies in the creek of soldiers of both armies.
Next night, the thunderous sound drew even nearer, even while the family ate their supper. There was a noise on the porch, and as Mother and I waited on, we saw the Master take a gun, fearing 'twas some renegade or robber. Instead, 'twas the Young Master who staggered in, wounded in the side.
"'Gusta, you fetch hot water and the staunchweed from my herb-box!" Mother shouted, as she and the Master put the young man to bed. As usual, I did as I was bidden. I helped her dress the gash across his ribs. My hands trembled - not, as she thought, from distress at his plight, but from the expectation swelling in my heart...
The Young Master had been carrying dispatches - had them still to deliver - but the Master told him he was in no state to continue his journey. Standing close to the door, waiting for further instructions, I caught snatches of conversation that told of a Rebel defeat: "Saw Virginia Regulars surrender... Green Dragoons rode into them... hacked them to bits..."
"- Augusta, will you move, girl, and put those little ones to bed? 'Tain't right they should see any of this!"
I read stories to the younger children to keep them quiet, which I did gladly. I knew that it was for the last time...
I lit the candle in the garret and prayed before I turned in to sleep. I did not know what a 'Green Dragoon' looked like, but I dreamed of some kind of splendid horsemen putting the Continentals to rout, then coming to this place, to the slave quarters, bringing fire, and freedom in its wake...
I awoke, still in pitch darkness, to the thunder of the guns nigh upon us. Climbing out of bed, I peered through the cracks in the shutters out into the night. I saw the shooting flames of artillery and muskets, like the bursting of a thousand stars, just a few hundred yards away.
"Lord, what's happening out there?"
"At last, Mother! The pillar of fire! It's come!"
"That's men been slaughtered out there, 'Gusta!"
But I ignored her. "Hallelujah," I muttered. "Lord, Hallelujah!"
By dawn, the porches and grounds of the house were littered with the wounded and dying of both armies. Mother and I led the other female slaves to tend them, although there were surgeons among them. At first I wondered who had won, but then a party of redcoat infantry arrived and began to take charge. If they were the victors.... My pulse quickened.
I paid little heed to the Master's conversation with the young Lieutenant. I leaned over a wounded private, to give him a little water to drink: he was little more than a boy, in a red uniform faded to dull brown by our Southern sun. Then I heard the sound of hoofbeats - many hoofbeats, riding together...
I straightened myself, looked down the track - and a thrill swept over me.
Horsemen, such horsemen as I had never seen before, more magnificent than I had dreamed - men with black-plumed helmets and bright uniforms of scarlet and green. They reined in at the front of the house, and I saw their Colonel: a lean, straight-backed man with a fine-cut profile beneath his helmet.
He ordered that the redcoat wounded be taken away by wagon, and added, almost casually, that the house and buildings be fired, as punishment for succouring the enemy. Then - as I found myself herded up with most of the other slaves (while Mother remained on the porch with the Master and the children), he told us that, if we would serve the King's cause, we would be free.
The word for which I had long waited.
Poor Joshua - the stable boy, an innocent soul - replied that he was free man already. It had been a joke of the Master's, when he once gave Josh a little pocket money to spend at market... And the poor fool-child believed it.
But the Colonel smiled sardonically, and said something to the effect that he was "a free man who would have the chance to serve in the King's army". Avoiding meeting his gaze, I stared at him in all his proud grace. He was young and pale, an angel with a fiery sword... the Deliverer for whom I had prayed.
And he had told me I was free...
As I drank in the full import of his words, there was an ugly scene, though 'twas brief enough. In searching the house, one of the soldiers had found the Young Master's dispatch case. What it contained, I knew not, but when the documents were shown to the Colonel, he blanched and immediately sought to know who had carried them. The Young Master admitted 'twas he, but lied that he was a stranger merely sheltering among us.
"He's a spy! Take him. Hang him and put his body on display," commanded the Colonel. He also ordered that all horses be taken for his Dragoons, with the rest of the livestock for slaughter (not that there were many, Fresh Water being a corn and tobacco plantation).
The Master protested that because the Young Master was in uniform and the case was marked, he could not be arrested.
"We're not going to hold him; we're going to hang him," said the officer.
The Master was about to argue the point further when the Young Master let slip the word "Father", and his pretence was exposed...
"Ah, I see. He's your son," smiled the Colonel, and chided the Master that he should have taught the lad something of loyalty. I thought the same, but kept silent, only smiling a little to myself as I watched them...
"I beg you - by the rules of war-" the Master cried. But the fine young Colonel offered to give him a lesson in the 'rules of war' by pointing a pistol at him and at the children - which sure made him back down.
The Colonel then ordered that the Rebel wounded be killed. The Young Master was tied up by his guards. At least they were only using ropes, I thought, and not the iron chains and collars I had seen on the slaves taken to market fresh from the quay at Charlestown, even as my grandmother was brought ashore, so Mother had said...
But then Master Tom - always a hot-tempered youth, who had longed to join up with the Rebels himself - began to shout and protest. Both the Colonel and the Master warned him not to interfere, yet, foolishly, still he launched himself at the soldiers, trying to beat them off his brother...
And so the Colonel shot him:
Well, no-one could say he had not been warned.
The Master, in a rapture of grief, gathered him, dying, in his arms...
But we were free... Black, brown, yellow... Free...
Mother hesitated at first: "I'm not leaving these children..." And even as we were jostled off, she kept glancing back anxiously over her shoulder. The ties that bound her to the Master were ties of the heart, as much as those of bondage: the last may be broken more easily than the first. I heard the Colonel order his men to make a clean sweep of the house and farm buildings. Yes, my fine horseman, I thought: a clean sweep... What were they to me? What even were the Young Masters, one dead and one a prisoner, like to hang?
- My brothers of half-blood, say you?
- Masters still, who were too high and proud to call me "sister". Masters still, who could have stood me on the auction block at Charlestown market, as my mother's father had done to her...
Yet my Mother trembled for them. I put my arm around her.
"Move along now," said a sergeant. "Not you, missy - the slaves!"
"That's what I am, sir," I answered.
"But you don't look -"
"Look again," I said. And this time he saw the blackness of my eyes and the fullness of my lips.
"She's my daughter," Mother put in. She was trying not to sob, and kept looking back.
She is tethered to him and his world. She will turn into a pillar of salt, I thought. Let the house burn. And the Rebels with it.
Even as I heard the volleys of gunfire as the Rebel wounded were killed, I did not once look behind me.
Free at last...
The further we walked, the lighter my step grew and the higher my head. Every humiliation, every fear was purged from me by blood and fire. The shadow of the auction-block had lifted, even as the smoke of Fresh Water and burning corpses shadowed the sun. There was no road back. And I rejoiced at heart.
TO BE CONTINUED
Next Chapter: Wherein Augusta finds a new rôle in life...
In the spirit of the master of historical picaresque, George MacDonald Fraser, there will be a few historical notes...
1. Since Ben Martin was loosely based on Francis Marion, I have retained his Huguenot origins. The surname is certainly plausibly French.