By HHA Member Tom Helmer
This is the third of four chronological stories based on locations in Tomaquag Valley
He was eleven when the Puritan Militia Men ambushed him, his father, his older brother, his two uncles and his three cousins. His father was the first one killed by a musket ball. Two of his cousins were killed when they charged the dozen men in their strange clothes. The youngest by a pistol shot as he ran towards them, the oldest by a sword. He got that close to the white man before he was run through, and then it was all over. His cousins died with honor, he and the others lived on with the endless shame at having surrendered. It was the White Man’s year 1722
The Militia Men bound the five survivors and made them walk to a White Man’s village of Wickford. They each had their right ear lobe “V” clipped, and were now marked to be sold as slaves. Nearby, across the bay, Newport, Rhode Island was one of the principal slave import/export markets among all the Colonies, and it seemed likely the five Narragansett men would soon become more nameless human cargo bound for the Caribbean. Instead, he and his two his uncles were manacled for wagon transport and bound over to Tomaquag in Westerly, Rhode Island. He never ever learned what befell his brother and cousin.
His owner was named Briggs Bothum. For that era, Farmer Bothum was considered kindly. His three indians labored mightily during the 6 days of the work week, but so did Briggs, his wife and their many children. The farm he inherited from his father was continually expanded into the wilderness. While Briggs felled trees and cleared land, the three slaves were set to walling. Wood was too precious for fencing, but the supply of rocks was endless.
His uncles walled with the stones as they were, but he was taught to drill and cut stone with tools of iron. Farmer Bothum saw the clear light of understanding in his eyes and put up with his many mistakes as he learned to twist the drill and make a smooth hole in the tough rock. If you lined up enough holes in a straight line, inserted iron feathers, and drove an iron wedge between them, as you went down the stone, eventually a slab would cleave off. The young man was proud of becoming a Hard Rock Cleaver, a cutter of the very foundation stones of the earth themselves.
Farmer Bothum gave his indians double victuals to celebrate the night he finally split a 7 foot granite post! He remembered his uncles beaming kindly at him. Now a strong young man of sixteen, he often cut the biggest stone posts and lintels, up to 10 feet long, too heavy to lift without 6 strong men.
The Bothum’s daughter Anna was considered “touched”, and accordingly her work was simple. Her primary chore was fetching water from the brook. When she was young, she had a small wooden pail. Her bucket was built thick and hardy. When Anna had a seizure and dropped everything, the water would spill but the pail never broke or ever leaked.
As she got older, her father made her a water yoke with 2 wood buckets. Sarah taught her how to wash the laundry. But her parents never trusted her with fire. She was too simple, and would burn herself up or the entire house down in her ignorance. Anna learned to never touch fire by having her fingers forced onto hot coals or flame. And she never did.
The local children avoided Anna, and teased her. Children have always been cruel. But Brigand, their “big oaf” dog, took delight in Anna, and Brigand’s unconditional love was returned in kind by Anna. Brigand & Anna, Anna & Brigand: they bonded closer than any human to human affection she was ever to know. Anna, “touched” in human eyes, was a goddess in Brigand’s eyes. It was only natural the two rejects became inseparable.
On the Sabbath, heavy work was never done on Lay Deacon Bothum’s land. The Bothum family attended church together weekly with out fail. Their indians were given some Christianizing preaching from scripture, but nothing stuck. They knew if they took off and were later caught, the notched ear would condemn them to a savage death as a runaway slave, or immediate shipment to the worst ports of the Caribbean to the harshest work imaginable. Knowing this, they had no mind to try an escape. They drearily entertained themselves as they saw fit.
The stone cleaver saw the joy in morose Anna whenever she was with Brigand. It filled him with old thoughts the Tribal Elders would speak about. The spirits flowed back and forth all around the boy and The People; in the air, land, plants and animals, even into the Tribe. Before his eyes he could see the manitou spirit of Ecstasy passing between this strange girl and her dog. The Fathers were right! Perhaps she even had dreams & visions.
Inspired to try, he thought of her face, his iron tools, and the multitude of empty rocks. On his twenty-sixth try, five months later, he captured the inner light of the manitou that wove all things together in peace. The rest went easily. He disassembled eight feet of existing wall and reassembled it using the stones he saw in his mind. He did not know what “sculpture” was, but when he stood back, he saw Anna & Brigand living in his wall.
On Monday, he motioned to Anna to follow him to the wall. Simple though she was, or because she was simple, she immediately saw what he had done. It was Brigand & her!
He went back to his hammer, while she ran to bring her father and mother to see the wall. She did not see the blinding rage that overcame her father, or the “Woman’s Worry” in her mother’s eye. They weren’t simple; far from it. Her father walked all the way to the big Westerly bridge where there was a trading post, eventually getting home in the dark.
That Saturday, two men drove to the farm yard in a wagon. Briggs Bothum summoned his three indians and told them he sold the young stone cleaver to this Westerly farmer. His new owner harshly bound the frightened man’s hands to a stone gate post he had cut.
The hired man took the horse whip and gave the stone cleaver ten crackling lashes!
Bothum yelled at the slaves: “Don’t You EVER Look At A White Woman Again!”
The farmer drove. The hired hand roped the bleeding, dazed stone cleaver behind the empty wagon. The farmers exchanged friendly nods & “Godspeeds”. Creaking, the wagon left.
Anna loved her wall, so Bothum let it be. No one spoke of the stone cleaver again. Bothum never cared to ask. Anna married a desperate farmer from Charleston and bore him five children that lived. He was a good man, and only beat her when she deserved it.
Centuries later, three people found The Happy Girl alone in the forest. They wished they could learn the name of the one who simply caught Unconditional Love in those 7 stones.