Novel depicts life as a slave of the Mowachahts on Vancouver Island in early 1800s

Posted: October 26, 2015 in Into the Americas
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The following excerpt from our historical adventure INTO THE AMERICAS (A novel based on a true story)  is set in the slaves’ quarters in the village of the Mowachahts, in Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, the night of the massacre of the crew of the brig The Boston. Two survivors of that violent event – young English blacksmith John Jewitt and grizzly American sailmaker Jonathan Thompson – adapt as best they can to their new surroundings.

Into the Americas (A novel based on a true story)

John and Thompson found themselves in the company of forty or more male slaves whose ages ranged from young to middle-aged. The slaves’ physical characteristics were noticeably different to the Mowachahts, signaling they were all from other tribes. Their number included several with Mohawk-type hairstyles, three whose heads were clean-shaven, two whose distinctly Asian features resembled the Inuits who lived much further north, a couple whose foreheads sloped back at a sharp angle, and several stocky individuals who seemed almost as wide as they were tall.

Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island…where it all took place.

If there was one characteristic they shared it was that they were all underweight and in poor physical condition. Their raggedy clothes hung off their spare frames and their faces were gaunt, as if they hadn’t had a good meal in months.

The newcomers weren’t to know their fellow slaves were the last to eat when food rations were in short supply. Even the villagers suffered deprivations over the long winter months, but for the slaves – male and female – it was especially tough as they had to rely on the generosity of their Mowachaht masters for any scraps of leftover food. Often, they had to forage for themselves if they wanted to eat. The pickings were slim in winter, and it was common for at least a few slaves to die of starvation over those cold, dark months.

Among the slaves was one with only one eye. He and the others stared at the whites menacingly.

The threatening reception didn’t go down well with Thompson who immediately bristled. Glaring directly at the one-eyed slave, he said, “What the fuck are you lookin’ at, One-Eye?”

“Thompson!” John hissed just loud enough for his belligerent companion to hear. “You’ll get us killed!”

“Ha!” the older man retorted. “I’ll throttle every last one of these sorry sons o’ bitches if they try anything.”

John’s concern grew as the slaves talked heatedly amongst themselves. They were obviously discussing the new arrivals – in particular the sailmaker who they now stared at malevolently.

The minutes passed and, to John’s relief, nothing happened. The other slaves went back to whatever it was they’d been doing. Some were greedily helping themselves to the contents of a large cooking pot that sizzled over the flames of an open fire. They used clam shells to scoop a porridge-like stew out of the pot into cedar calabashes that resembled crude soup bowls. That done, most dispensed with the shells and used their fingers to transfer the stew into their mouths. So hot was the food, they had to blow on their fingers to cool them between mouthfuls.

Nootka Sound…as it was in the days of the trading ships.

Smoke from the fire curled up through the larger of several holes in the roof. Not all the smoke escaped, so the atmosphere inside was quite smoky, which no doubt explained why some of the slaves appeared to have permanent coughs.

John and Thompson surveyed their new surroundings without enthusiasm. Besides half a dozen wooden apple boxes that served as chairs, there were no furnishings; the lodge’s dirt floor was reduced a muddy quagmire whenever it rained – as was the case right now. The rain had just returned with a vengeance. Where water had dripped down moments earlier, now it cascaded down and gushed through the holes in the roof, adding to everyone’s discomfort.

Most alarming was there weren’t enough bed mats to go round. As a result, half the slaves had to sleep on mats they’d fashioned out of palm fronds and leafy branches. There weren’t enough blankets to go round either, and some of the slaves used palm fronds and other vegetation as substitute blankets.

John and Thompson turned their attention to the large communal cooking pot in the center of the lodge. Those slaves who hadn’t yet eaten were now dipping their hands into a vile-looking stew and shoveling it into their mouths. Hungry though they were, the new arrivals resisted the urge to join their inhospitable companions. The pair sat down just inside the entrance, away from the others.

Thompson looked at John. “You alright, Jewitt?”

John nodded unconvincingly.

Thompson wasn’t fooled. He knew his young companion was going through his own private hell. The Philadelphian looked over at the other slaves. They were all staring at the two whites, and openly talking about them in their native tongue.

“The White-Faces smell like pigs,” One-Eye said to a bald slave.

The bald slave nodded. “They look like pigs, too.”

The others laughed aloud.

Thompson sneered at them. “Filthy animals. I’ll flatten these whale-fuckers if I get ‘alf a chance.” He spat in One-Eye’s direction.

“We can’t afford to make enemies of them!” John said with some urgency. “They’re slaves, too.”

Thompson bristled. “I told you, Jewitt. I’m no man’s slave.”

John wanted to make the older man see sense, but he didn’t have the energy. “I need to sleep,” he mumbled.

“Me too.”

Nootka Sound…in more recent times.

The two men crawled to the driest section of floor they could find close by then lay down and prepared to sleep. Thompson didn’t trust the other slaves, so he tried to sleep with one eye open, but that didn’t work. All the while, water dripped down onto them, keeping them both awake.

After an hour of tossing and turning, John turned to the dark shape lying next to him. “You awake?”

“Of course I’m bloody awake.”

His back turned to the others, John unbuttoned his shirt to reveal the two pistols he’d recovered from The Boston’s armory. The shiny, silver weapons were just visible to Thompson in the dim, flickering light of the fading fire.

The sailmaker’s eyes widened at the site of the pistols. “Where’d ya get those?” he whispered.

“From the armory.”

Thompson glanced around to ensure they weren’t being observed. He needn’t have bothered. The others were fast asleep. “You got ammunition for them?” he asked.

Embarrassed, John shook his head.

“What use are pistols without ammo?” an incredulous Thompson asked.

“You just never know.”

Thompson looked askance at John. “Christ, I’m gonna go insane here.” He turned his back on his companion, annoyed by the young man’s naivety.

Undeterred, John wrapped the pistols in a handkerchief and surreptitiously deposited them behind a loose board in the near wall.

 

You have been reading an excerpt from INTO THE AMERICAS (A novel based on a true story). The book is available exclusively on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Into-Americas-novel-based-story-ebook/dp/B00YJKM51E/

 

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