Martha lives before Revolutionary War. Will there come a day when everyone has freedom?
I, Martha Felicity McLaughlen
“Listen, Ellie. Children, hush,” Father commanded. “I am trying to read the paper to your mother. ‘Many Rebels have formed groups and they gather together to discuss the taxes on various items and the “cruelty” of King George III on the colonies. They gather in clumps on streets in many towns and cities, namely Boston. The Rebels are truly beginning to do rebellious acts, which, many say, will erupt in a war. If the Rebels continue to do so, there will be a war within these colonies, surely. Many hope that the Rebels will not push the colonies and England to war, for war is a terrible time for all.’” Father set down the paper and continued to eat his breakfast in silence, as usual. Father normally ate quietly, reading his paper, but occasionally shared a bit of news with Mother, even though we all listened to it, since we were also sitting at the table.
“Well, I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that, Nathaniel, as the paper says. The last thing we need right now is war,” Mother said. She smoothed the napkin in her lap.
I stuck a bite of bacon in my mouth. I, Martha McLaughlen, did not pay much mind to politics, though everyone else I knew did. Elizabeth Mary McLaughlen, my older sister didn’t either. She was too busy drooling over her beau, nearly husband, Michael Taylor. And Nellie Anne McLaughlen, my younger sister, who was twelve, didn’t understand, or even grasp, the concept of the turmoil occurring in the colonies, namely Massachusetts. We lived in Lexington, Massachusetts. That alone exposed us to the brute of it, which was not good. In other colonies, people had opinions, sure, but not the extremes they had here in Massachusetts. Daily we heard of fist fights between people who were loyal to the King and Rebels, people who weren’t.
Now my mother, Ellie Smith McLaughlen, was always talking nonsense about the differences between the Loyalists and Rebels and she was very opinionated about it. And so were my two brothers: Henry Edward McLaughlen and William John McLaughlen, who we called Will. They were also always blabbing about this or that about the dispute between the two … Well, the two sides, I suppose I want to call it.
I said, out of the blue, “Abigail Williams can still come to pay a visit this afternoon, can’t she?”
“Martha, you must have meant to say, may Abigail still come to pay a visit this afternoon. And yes, she may,” Mother corrected me. She was very strict where it concerned grammar.
“And Martha, you know my sister Lily is coming tomorrow?” Father asked. Nathaniel Francis McLaughlen, to be correct. My father.
“No, I didn’t. Oh! I am so excited. How long will she be here?” I responded, excited that my aunt was coming.
“She will be here two days, Martha.” Father took a sip of his coffee.
“Then she will be here for Mother’s birthday supper?” Elizabeth said hopefully. She hung on every word Aunt Lily said. The beautiful, young, successful sister of my father.
Nellie said, “Mother, why isn’t Aunt Lily married?”
“Nellie Anne McLaughlen! What kind of question is that? Can you not stop asking absurd questions? As well as just saying absurd remarks?” Mother said sharply.
“Well, I just wanted to know. That’s all. And can you tell me now, since I already asked the question?”
“Nellie! I said, that is an inappropriate question. And I don’t know why.”
“Mother, today I am going to go to Thomas Irvingstone’s house today. Is that all right?” Will asked hopefully. Thomas Irvingstone was Will’s best friend. They practically lived at each other’s houses.
“Will, you may, of course. You did your studies very thoroughly and well. So, you deserve to go.” Mother nodded.
Henry then declared, “Nellie, you know that Miss Delaby, your tutor, is coming at one o’clock. Yesterday afternoon, she stopped me on the street while I was on my way to Andrew Cooper’s house.” Nellie was excited then. She was very intellectual and she loved lessons with her tutor, Miss Delaby.
Andrew Cooper was my good friend Hannah Cooper’s little brother. Henry was good friends with Andrew Cooper.
“Wonderful! I was wondering when she would come! It’s almost been two days since she was here,” Nellie exclaimed.
“Nellie Anne, you know it is not polite to cry out like that,” Mother said, “Ladies should be quiet and gentle and kind at all times. And it is unseemly for a lady to be enthusiastic about studies. It is very unladylike,” Mother continued.
“But I like, no love my studies!” Nellie protested. “And I don’t care if I am ladylike or not!” she added saucily.
“Nellie Anne McLaughlen! We’ve had quite enough of your sauciness and impertinence this morning. You may go up to your room and stay there until further instruction,” Father said harshly. He was an easy-going man, be he didn’t tolerate sauciness or impertinence.
“Yes, Father,” Nellie said meekly. And she went up to her room.
“Elizabeth,” Henry said, “When is Laura Anderson going to come for a visit to you?”
“Excuse me?” Elizabeth said boldly. “A visit to me. No, you mean coming for a visit to you. I don’t care two peas for Laura Anderson. It’s just that you say she is my friend, but you’re the one who’s in love with her.”
Henry turned red. “Elizabeth,” he sputtered. “ in love with her! You are you’re … an impudent dunce.”
“Elizabeth! Henry! What is this? Why can we not have a quiet breakfast? You two should know better. What does it matter if Henry has feelings for Laura Anderson, Elizabeth? And Henry, what does it matter if Elizabeth is not the best of friends with Laura Anderson? Henry, do not call your sister an impudent dunce. Really,” Mother exclaimed. Then she sighed. She knew, even if she reasoned until she was blue in the face, there would be turmoil in our house. If not just Henry and Elizabeth, then Nellie and Mother.
“Mother? May I be excused?” I ventured. I needed to get away from here if I was going to not become a part of the argument.
“Yes, Martha, go.” I got up and went.
As I crept up the stairs and stole into my room, I could hear Father carefully fold the paper and announce, “Well, I must be getting to work in my study.”
So he wasn’t the only one who wanted to get away.
I read a book while I waited for Abigail Williams. Then I heard soft footsteps coming upstairs. It must be Abigail! I dashed out of my room. It was … Elizabeth. She scowled at me and stalked into her room.
I sighed and went back into my chamber. When Elizabeth was mad, she was mad. That was a gentle way of putting it. She stomped, slammed doors, and raged. Yes, that’s what she did.
Elizabeth was now sobbing. Henry peeked into my room and gave me a small smile. I waved and he went onto his room.
I heard fast, hard footsteps. That must be Abigail. And … it was. She wore a pretty elegant gown made of blue satin. She sat down on my bed.
“Martha! It’s been so long,” Abigail said, “Well, only a week, actually,” she amended.
“That’s too long for me.” I crossed the room and sat down on the bed. “How is Mrs. Williams?”
“My mother is well. And Mrs. McLaughlen?”
“She is very upset with Henry and Elizabeth.”
“Well, they had a fight at breakfast about …”
“Why? Why should Laura Anderson create a fight between Elizabeth and Henry?”
“Because Henry “likes” Laura Anderson and Elizabeth doesn’t like her and she felt that she had to announce that to the whole table and ruin breakfast.”
“Oh. I can guess the rest: your mother was very upset and she yelled at them. Then Elizabeth went up to her room and screamed. Right?”
“Yes … but how did you know?”
“Martha, I have known your family a long time.”
“Have you seen Hannah lately?”
“No, they just got back from Hillside Manor. Her grandfather had his seventy-fifth birthday.”
Hillside Manor was Hannah’s grandparents’ estate fifteen miles out of town. Hannah loved it there.
“Hannah must of been happy. She loves that place.”
“Even more so since they built that beautiful fountain in the garden. Aren’t you excited for our trip? Mother already ordered three new gowns for me.”
“Yes. It is going to be so fun. Mother said we could go in her new carriage!” Abigail clapped her hands.
“When we go, Hannah’s grandparents are going to throw a party to welcome us. I am not supposed to know, but Mother told me. Abby, listen to this: my aunt Lily is coming tomorrow!” I said.
“Really! That’s wonderful. She is only ten years older than you. Is she courting anyone? Is Elizabeth excited?”
“I don’t know. She was before the fight, I know. Aunt Lily is not courting anyone I know of.”
“Is your uncle Johnny married yet, Martha?”
“What time should we be here for the dinner party, Martha?”
“Around six thirty.”
“Alright. What are you going to wear?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking my silk gown with the scooping neckline. You?”
“Mayhap my pink velvet.”
“Enough chatter. Do you want something to eat or drink? I can run down and get some from Lucy.”
Lucy was our cook. She had been with us since before I was born. When both her parents died of fever, my parents gave her work.
“No thank you, I just ate, Martha,” Abigail said.
“Very well. Do you want to go for a walk?”
“Yes, that would be fun.”
I put on my cloak and bonnet. Abigail did the same. We walked out the door. We ambled to the park and sat down on a bench for a breath.
“So, how is … your father?” I asked, searching for more conversation topics.
“He is well. But he is working so hard. He spends all his time in his library. I haven’t seen him since dinner yesterday.” She sighed.
“Oh.” I said, for lack of anything better.
“When I saw my father today for breakfast he was in a stern mood. He snapped at everyone, except for Mother and I.”
“At least you saw him. Unlike me.”
“You’ll see him soon. It’s Friday,” I tried unsuccessfully to comfort Abby, who was frowning slightly.
“Well, anyhow, how are Will’s studies going? I bet Nellie can’t wait until Miss Delaby comes to tutor her.”
“Will is doing fine, as always. And, yes, Nellie was sent up to her room for screeching about her tutor and loving lessons. You know how Mother is about ‘doing ladylike activities,’ as Mother says.”
Abigail giggled. “Yes, I do. Remember when we we Nellie’s age, and Mrs. McLaughlen always corrected me like she did you?”
“I certainly can recall that. We’ve gotten lost again in our chatting again,” I pointed out. “Let’s keep walking. I can surely use some exercise. I did absolutely nothing yesterday but read.”
“Of course. Since my mother, as you know, is crazy about the outdoors, she insists on me having exercise daily.”
“Mother says exercising as much as I do is unladylike. But I insist on it. It’s the only way I keep my figure.”
“It definitely helps,” Abby agreed.
I took deep breath as I advanced my speed. I was very exhilarated to be in the fresh air. I felt like I was breathing it for the first time every time I took a breath of it. It also made me feel vigorous and lively, if I felt tired.
“So, is Nellie still insisting upon taking Latin?” Abby questioned.
“Yes, she is very intent about learning Latin,” I responded, “and Mother is, surprisingly enthusiastic about it.”
“Really? I thought Mrs. McLaughlen would disapprove of that greatly, for it is considered unladylike to learn Latin in our close-minded society. Mother was insistent that I learn it, for that very reason.”
“Well, Miss Delaby is going to teach her, starting next week.”
“You learned Latin when you were thirteen, right?”
“Yes, of course, if Mother said Nellie might do it, I did it.”
“Well, let’s drop it. Do you like the new milliner’s shop, Miss Wellesley’s?” she said.
“Oh, well, I haven’t been there more than once or twice. But I like it from what I see.”
“I think it is fine; it is very small.”
“But as the old saying goes, ‘quality, not quantity.’”
“You’re right, Martha. It has fine things even if it is small.”
“I’d better head home, now, though I really do not want to. I’ll see you soon, Abby.”
I headed home in the midmorning sunshine that fell graciously upon me.
I was reading on my patchwork quilt I had finished when I was a mere six years old. My tutor, also Miss Delaby, had taught me everything from proper handling of a fork and knife to how to sew to doing math. She concluded I had an aptitude for sewing; also I could grasp concepts and ideas very quickly: I was a formidable learner. My patchwork quilt was a magnificent array of colors from cobalt blue, to coral pink, and it had different shades of purple –– it was beautiful, and admired by everyone who set eyes upon my fine accomplishment.
“Martha, dear, would you please ––” Mother’s eyes had just come to rest on me and my novel. “Reading again, are you? My dear, you read more than anyone in Lexington all put together.” She attempted, I noticed, to have an air of disapprovement, but she failed, as I knew her too well: she loved that her children, especially her daughters loved to read. Mother was all for the education of women and, secretly, a wish for women to be looked upon as equals to men. I knew she would never voice that opinion out loud, but she did show it in her subtle ways, for instance, the thorough educations of Elizabeth, Nellie, and me.
“Martha, it is such a lovely day outside. Some fresh air and exercise would do you good. Would you please go to market –– a good walk, I daresay –– and do today’s shopping?”
“Yes, I will. You’re right, it is nice outside. What do you need?” I replied, enthused about the idea of spending a good, long bit of time in the crisp air.
“Well, let me see,” she mused. “Peppers … yes, a bit of tea … eggs, also … and some salt. Oh! And a cone of sugar … Lucy ran out this morning.”
“All right. See you in a bit.” I hugged her, grabbed my cloak from its hook, and set off into the sunlight.
“Have fun, Martha!” she called after me.
I strode out of the house and looked up into the cobalt blue sky that was dotted with several fluffy, white clouds. I took a deep breath of chilly, fresh air and walked down Tildale Street, the road on which my house stood. I turned the corner and kept going.
Large, grand house began to be replaced with smaller, less elegant houses which evidently were the dwellings of common folk. The brick road was eventually covered with carts and stands that meant one thing: I finally arrived at the market.
People were peddling a wide assortment of objects and the owners of the stands were trying to sell their various goods, from fish to eggs. I saw Mother’s egg seller, Mrs. Millsyn. She was a rather round lady, with a kindly expression on her face.
I walked over to her stall and greeted her.
“Eggs, my dear?” asked Mrs. Millsyn.
“Yes, if you please,” I responded politely.
“Now, Miss McLaughlen, dear, we have a fresh selection of eggs from this morning. If you could come––”
She was interrupted mid sentence by a yell from someone. Several people, including Mrs. Millsyn and me, turned to stare out this loud disruption in the middle of a peaceful market day.
I saw where the noise came from –– a man who was struggling against the tight hold of several British soldiers.
He was once again screaming, “On what charges are you arresting me? I haven’t done anything wrong! I am a man who abides by this law. You haven’t got any right … what’ve I done?” he demanded.
The soldier, in a deep English accent, answered, “We have a warrant for your arrest by order of His Majesty, the King of England.”
“And that would be…?” the man asked, apparently still struggling.
“His Majesty has given the charges … ‘James Harpon has spoken against His Majesty, threatening British rule. He has defied the King of England; therefore he is a traitor,’” the officer said.
“I’ve done nothing! Nothing!”
“According to this, Mr. Harpon, you have. ‘Mr. Harpon has been plotting to create a new government, which would take away His Majesty’s rightful power.’”
“If you mean I’ve been handing out papers to promote awareness of His Majesty’s new taxes. That, sir, is not treason. I have not been planning to rid His Majesty of his powers. I only wished that he might take away some of his taxes which have led me to very mean circumstances to what I used to have. And, I have not squandered my riches; they have been used most efficiently. Now, they are mostly gone, all due to the taxes.”
The officer was beginning to look uncomfortable, I could tell, because many faces had turned to watch this argument. Numerous people were looking quite angry.
The soldier said, “Mr. Harpon, we must arrest you until further instruction. You will have a hearing. But until that time you will be kept within the jail because we, as lower ranks, have no power to do otherwise with you. Now, please, come, and things will turn out better if they higher officials see you have not fought your arrest.”
“Fine. I will give it a week –– and that’s all!” Mr. Harpon said angrily as they dragged him off.
Onlookers were muttering now; they we uneasy about what they had just seen.
Mrs. Millsyn was murmuring, “Oh, dear, oh dear …”
“Oh God,” I breathed. “What was––?”
“Taxes, my dear, taxes. The King has imposed new and heavier taxes upon the Colonies. This was, in my opinion, unwise of him, because of the unrest in the Colonies already. Oh!” She clapped a hand over her mouth. “I shouldn’t have said that … Martha, don’t repeat that please.”
“Yes. Well, here’s the money, Mrs. Millsyn. And thanks ... I’ll see you soon.”
I departed from her stand and walked hurriedly towards home.
“Mother! Mother!” I bellowed as soon as I entered the house.
Elizabeth and Nellie were eating dinner, and they jumped as I stalked into the dining room.
“What is it?” asked Nellie worriedly.
“Today at market … people arrested … no good reason … war coming soon … where is she?” I yelled.
“Martha!” Mother said. “Why on earth are you yelling?”
“Today at market, I was buying my eggs like normal and I hear this scream. Everyone, and I mean everyone turned to look. So, there was this man, James Harpon, who was being arrested by British officers for handing out leaflets to make people aware of the taxes the King put on us –– you know, all the new ones on tea and such.”
“Oh! Oh my …” Mother said in horror. “Oh my God!”
“Yes, that’s what happened. So … we’re Patriots, right?” I asked. “Because everyone can now know I am.”
“Martha Felicity McLaughlen! You will not talk about that again. Do you understand me? It is unseemly, first of all, and secondly, it is extremely dangerous to do so. For all intents and purposes, we are Loyalists. Is that clear?
“Now, I think a talk with your father is warranted. Nathaniel!”
“Yes, Ellie?” I heard my Father call as he strode into the dining room.
“Martha has just seen someone, Mr. James Harpon, arrested at market for handing out papers against the new taxes the King has put on us and Martha has declared she is a Patriot. Nathaniel, I think Martha needs to talk to you, alone. In your study, yes?” said Mother.
“Oh, yes. Yes, of course. Come, Martha.”
Father indicated that I enter his study by holding out his hand in a broad gesture.
“Now, judging from what your Mother told me, you seem to favor the Patriot cause. As you know, there are two causes: Patriot and Loyalists. The Loyalists approve and like what the King is doing, like the taxes. They think that the Colonies are starting to be rebellious from English rule, and the Loyalists firmly believe that the Colonies need to be treated with a firmer hand to stomp out the rebellion. My dear, you must understand the power the British have. They have incredible strength, influence, and power in this world.
“Now, the Patriots are complete opposites. They wish to have freedom from England; they want to rule themselves. That is why there is so much turmoil. There is going to be a war, Martha. It will happen –– there is no doubt, I think, whatsoever that it won’t happen. The turmoil thereby causes a stricter rule from the King. And therein is the problem: a more stringent rule means more rebellion. It is my belief that the King does not comprehend this; hence the harsher laws.
“I believe that, after the subsequent war, England will have won.”
I began, “But how can you––”
“No, Martha, listen. I said I think they will win, not I want them to win. No, I would like the Colonies to win. However, I cannot make that fact known. You saw how Mr. Harpon was arrested for just giving out handouts. That is just a taste of what the British can do. If I said something akin to what Mr. Harpon said, our lives would be ruined,” Father said simply.
“I know my decision may be selfish. It may be cowardly not to voice my opinion. You can say whatever you like about my choice, but I have a reason that decided me: I want to keep a good life. Therefore, we will be neutral until the war. No, listen Martha. When the war arrives, and it will, we will declare ourselves Loyalists. So when the British win we will not be killed.
“Martha, I know your spirit. You always say what you think and stick proudly to it; you like to make yourself and what you think known. I admire your bravery and your spirit. But, in the best interests of our family, you must keep quiet like the rest of us. You, of course, can think and believe anything you like inwardly, but I am begging you: don’t do anything. Please.”
“But Father! It’s not fair! I don’t care what happens! I want to be a part of it,” I cried indignantly. “I’ll do anything I wish. And you––” I pointed at him “–– or anyone else can’t stop me. You better get it through your head, because I’m going to help the Patriots. I am one. Got it?”
“Martha, please––” he begged.
“No! I’ll do what I want –– you will not stop me!” I was incensed now. Why couldn’t he understand that I wanted to help the Patriots? That I had to –– if it was the last thing I did?
He sighed. I saw for an instant his tired face, but that didn’t stop me. I stood up abruptly, knocking my chair down in the process, and stalked out of the room.