Category Archives: The Snake Fence

Chapter One: Wagoners Wanted

I’ve given you the Prologue of The Snake Fence in my blog about Quaker lingo. Here’s the first chapter as a teaser. You can now order an advance copy of The Snake Fence at at a discounted price. The book will be mailed to you by the end of the month.


Chapter 1

Wagoners Wanted

Clutching both reins, I yelled, “Giddyup, Hope! Home, Seth! Faster! Faster!” Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette was tucked inside my shirt. Bags of newly milled flour thudded against the bed of Pa’s old farm wagon. My teeth rattled as the horses pounded the dirt road. Here’s my chance, I thought, if only Pa will let me go!

My straw hat slipped off the back of my head and my hair whipped across my eyes. I brushed it back with my forearm, not letting go of the reins. Bad things were happening on Pennsylvania’s frontier. Indians were killing people, burning houses and crops. Not here in Chester County, but in the Back Counties. And the English were sending a grand army to defend us.

Because we are Quakers and don’t believe in war, I couldn’t join the army. But I sure wanted to help make things right. If Indians attacked our farm, would we defend ourselves? If we didn’t, what would happen? Bloody scenes flashed through my mind.

I loved my family too much to let something that awful happen without trying to . . . to what? To kill to avoid being killed? Could I even do that? If I did, the Meeting might disown me. That in itself would be a kind of death.

I had never met an Indian. At Quaker Meeting, I heard that they, like everyone else, had “that of God” within them. But the Pennsylvania Gazette painted a different picture. Why were Indians suddenly violent? Mayhap others had it right: they were just savages who couldn’t be trusted. I was sitting on the snake fence on this issue.

People I knew seemed more interested in following Quaker teachings than in questioning them. Not everyone in the world believes as Quakers do. What makes Quakers so sure they have the Truth and everyone else is wrong? But when I asked Pa, he just looked at Ma as if to say, “Where did this young’un come from?” So I didn’t ask again, but I kept wondering.

I didn’t expect to find answers at home on the farm. Mayhap Franklin’s advertisement would make all the difference. But I would have to put it to Pa in just the right way. Pa was a good man, but not easy. He had an edge in his voice, a challenging look in his eyes. He was fair but tough, and he lacked patience with anything he considered a hare-brained idea.

According to Pa, I had come up with more than my share of those ideas. One was to mount chair legs on curved runners so the chair could tilt back and forth. Istill thought it was worth pursuing, but Pa had really scorned that one. “Why would I want to tilt my chair back and forth? When I sit down, I want rest, not exercise!”

I hoped this latest idea was not hare brained. It was Benjamin Franklin’s idea, after all. I just wanted to be part of it. I wanted to be part of something big.

The late afternoon sun winked through little spring leaves as I careened up the hill to our barn. My finger fumbled unhitching and watering the horses. Then I raced down to the house, jerked a dripping bucket of water from the well, splashed my sweaty face, and burst through the kitchen door. The Pennsylvania Gazette was hidden in my shirt.

The family had just finished supper. Everyone was there, even my oldest brother Enoch and his wife, Deborah. Pa and Ma sat in their chairs at either end of the long plank table. Bersheba and Will, older than I, and our younger brother Benjamin were perched on stools on either side. My place was still set.

“Time for the Bible reading, Noble,” Pa said. “Eat thy supper while I read.”

I squatted on my stool. My knees bumped up under the table now that I’d grown taller. Ma passed me a plate of bread and sausage gravy. Pa read from the big Bible, as he did every day. Then he prayed and the family all said “Amen,” same as every day. Then he put the Bible back in its heavy wooden box. Time to make my move.

“Pa,” I said, “I brought home the new Pennsylvania Gazette. Want to read it?”

Pa put his glasses back on his nose, and Will and Ben breathed a sigh of relief. Listening to news beat going out for evening chores. Pa opened the paper and began to read aloud. Never ones to sit idle, the women took out their needlework. My older brothers either leaned their elbows on the table or tipped their stools back against the blue hutch.

I had a plan, if I could just be patient enough. I hoped my voice wouldn’t crack. It hadn’t for a while now, but it still did when I least expected it.

Pa droned on about the latest squabble between the Pennsylvania Assembly and the governor. This whole year of 1755 had been full of war talk. I knew Pa would read all the news before he got to the advertisement that had captured my imagination.

Pa always read the ads. There were descriptions of runaway apprentices, indentured servants, and horses. Who knew when we might see one of them and be able to claim the reward? “Keep eyes sharp, lads,” Pa would say. He read all notices of sales of farms, houses, and estates. Not that he wanted to buy, but he wanted to know what the market was. Pa had a reputation for making money where others might not think to try or want to take the risk.

A sudden change in Pa’s voice caught everyone’s attention. He had found the advertisement signed by Benjamin Franklin himself. “Forty-one Wagons are immediately wanted, to carry a load of Oats and Indian Corn from Philadelphia to Wills’s Creek, for which they are to be paid twelve pounds each wagon. Protections and passes will be given the Wagoners by authority of the General, to prevent their being impressed, or detained after delivery of their Loads. They are to set out together on Thursday the 29th instant. Apply to Benjamin Franklin, in Philadelphia. Note: several neighbors may conveniently join in fitting out a wagon, as was lately done in the Back Counties. If the Wagons cannot thus be obtained, there must be an Impress.”

Pa’s voice was heavy with significance as he read that last word. Leaning back in his armchair, he looked over his spectacles. The family silently considered what he had just read. I forced myself to keep quiet. I mustn’t be in a hurry.

“What’s an impress, Pa?” Ben asked.

“It means the army could force farmers to deliver grain, willing or not.”

“And General Braddock might keep the horses and wagon, maybe even the farmer, for as long as needed,” added Enoch. Even though he and Deborah were expecting a child of their own, he still enjoyed frightening Ben.

“If Indians are attacking as close as the Susquehanna, how much longer will we be safe here in Chester County?” Ma worried.

“An army must be splendid, all those uniforms, horses, and guns,” Ben sighed.

“An army isn’t splendid, Ben,” William scoffed. “When thee sees an army, thee is seeing men who kill each other. We don’t believe in war, remember.”

I glared at him. “But soldiers and their horses need to eat, surely,” I said. “We can’t fight, but we can feed them, can’t we?”

“Making money on the war,” Will grumbled. “That’s as bad as fighting.”

“The army is already here, to defend us. Why shouldn’t we feed them?” Enoch said. “Don’t we owe them that?”

“But, Pa, isn’t supplying an army the same as fighting?” Will asked.

I couldn’t wait for Pa to answer. “Nay, Will, think of it this way: it would be unchristian to let soldiers starve in the wilderness, wouldn’t it, Pa?”

Pa looked from one of us to the other, a hint of a smile on his face. He enjoyed watching us argue. It sharpened our minds, he said, though Ma pleaded with him not to encourage us. Finally he said, “The Lord wants us to be good stewards. If an opportunity comes along and does no one harm, I find naught wrong with it. ‘Twelve pounds and safe passage for any who would drive a wagon loaded with oats and corn,’ ” he read again.

I had waited long enough. About to burst with excitement, I chose my words carefully, watching Pa’s face for any reaction. “Pa, since thee bought the new wagon,don’t we have a spare one?”

“Aye, we do.”

I couldn’t help wriggling on my seat. “And now that Ben is getting so stout, might thee spare me to make this trip?”

“What? That would leave me with just Will and Ben to help out here.”

“Aye, but we’ve nearly finished planting, so there is only haying to do in Sixth Month. Sheba can help with that, and I’d be back before time to pull flax and cut rye.”

“And what will draw the wagon?” Pa replied. “I can’t spare two horses.”

Enoch broke in. “Deborah’s brother Jonathan has a horse he might let us use, if thee could spare one.”

Us? Does thee think to go with me?” Suddenly I saw my twelve pounds halved.

“Nay, little brother, I may let thee go with me,” Enoch taunted. “Not likely Jonathan would let thee borrow his horse.” Deborah nodded her agreement.

“Why would I trust either of thee with my horse and wagon?” Pa asked.

“Thee let me drive a load to Philadelphia alone, and on this trip there would be a whole train of wagons,” I said. “Pa, how can I prove myself without such a chance?”

“And what would thee do with the twelve pounds?”

I thought fast. “We’d split it evenly.” Half my profit gone, but I needed that horse. Pa waited for me to continue.

“I’d buy woodworking tools.”

“Well, if Jonathan Swayne is willing to lend his horse, I suppose we could spare thee for a while. We managed well enough during thy apprenticeship, didn’t we?” Then he added, “But don’t come home with an empty wagon.”

Until I heard those words, I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath. Then it burst out in amazed relief. Pa was actually going to let me go. Now I could be part of showing those Indians they couldn’t get by with attacking civilized people. I didn’t know how that could be done without violence, but I was too excited about the coming adventure to worry about details.

Ma shook her head in resignation. I knew she was relieved that two of us were going, because we would look out for each other.

Pa folded his spectacles and put them away with the newspaper.

I tried hard not to show how smug I felt. What a great adventure I was about to have! It almost made up for not getting a journeyman job right away. This way I could do something about stopping those awful attacks on settlers, see the world, or a different part of it leastways, and earn money for tools.

That night Ben hopscotched silver squares of moonlight on the floor of our bedroom as we shimmied out of our breeches and hung them on wall pegs. He said, “I wish I could go with thee, brother.”

“I’d rather have thee than Enoch for a traveling partner any day. He always acts as if he’s just eaten a sour apple. Pa can spare but one of us, though, and thee is rather young.”

“Thee will see soldiers, maybe Indians and Frenchmen, maybe even a battle.”

“I hope so. Someone has to keep them from killing people. I wish the Meeting would allow us to fight. But maybe there’s a way to stop violence without adding to it.”

Ben curled up like a puppy on our rope-strung bed, his chin resting on his hand. We were buddies as well as brothers. Joking with Ben had made dull days nearly bearable. I would do anything to defend him, I told myself, Quaker or not.


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The tomahawk missed Ephraim. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an Indian tucking Charley’s bloody scalp into his belt. Charley was sprawled forward, his blank eyes turned in Ephraim’s direction.

Ephraim, surrounded by swirls of smoke, his ears roaring with battle noise, gazed at his dead friend. Charley’s dead. Charley’s dead, his mind repeated factually.  We’ve lost the battle, and Charley’s dead.

Ephraim began backing away, feeling his way over dead bodies and fallen branches, still staring into Charley’s blank eyes.

He tumbled backwards over a dead horse. Picking himself up, he turned and sprinted toward the river, dodging grasping hands, jumping over obstacles. His feet seemed to have a mind of their own.

He was still running when he hit the river. Its swift flow swept him off his feet. He surfaced and shook the water out of his eyes, gasping. The river was red! Dead soldiers rolled downstream like so many logs, staining the current with their blood. He struggled to wade across, pushing aside bodies of men and horses.

In the distance he could hear British drums sounding the order to retreat, but from the looks of things, Ephraim judged most of the troops were already dead or fleeing the scene. He was not the only soldier trying to cross the river.

When they reached the other side, he and the survivors ran as fast and as far as they could, back up the trail they had marched so confidently that same morning. They were sure that Indians were chasing them, knives in hand. Many soldiers collapsed and died in the woods. No one paused to help or even acknowledge their fall.

Ephraim ran unaware that Indians were not pursuing them. Instead, they were scalping the dead, torturing prisoners, and taking plunder. There was plenty to plunder. Those Pennsylvania wagons held cannons, boxes of ammunition, and other supplies, including barrels of rum. French soldiers even found General Braddock’s war chest containing great amounts of cash and the master plan for the entire British campaign against the French in North America.

Finally Ephraim could run no further. Heaving, he slumped to the ground on the back side of a bushy red cedar just off the trail. His leg muscles locked. He could hear voices of people coming. He tried hard to breathe through his nose instead of panting so loudly. He peeked through the thick foliage of his cedar.

Two Virginia officers were carrying wounded General Braddock. Ephraim recognized Colonel Washington and two other aides.

“Washington,” General Braddock gasped, “ride to Dunbar’s camp and send wagons for the wounded. Bring medical supplies and other provisions. Meet us at Gist’s plantation. Tell Dunbar to send two companies of Grenadiers with them.”

Washington left at once, as fast as his horse could carry him, leaving the general with Colonel Burton and some sentries.

Ephraim’s mind quieted somewhat. General Braddock, though wounded, was still in charge. Washington would send help. Ephraim waited until the others were just out of sight, and then he crept back onto the trail, following the sound of their voices and moving as slowly as they were.

Other survivors caught up with Ephraim. Together they plodded silently, many of them wounded. Occasionally they heard cries from the woods, pleas for help from soldiers who could not go any further. No one stopped. Dispirited, they put one foot in front of the other and kept moving.

They recrossed the Monongahela at what had been the first fording point that morning. The day was spent, but there was no talk of making camp for the night. Through the growing darkness, the long march continued. Soon the forest trail was black, and Ephraim shuffled his feet along, unsure of the next step. Sometimes he tripped over a rock or tree root. Once or twice he stumbled over a fallen soldier. Still the army marched. They were hungry. No one had eaten all day. They were thirsty. They were weak with fatigue. But fright drove them relentlessly away from Fort Duquesne, hour after hour.

At long last the sky above the canopy of trees began to grow faintly gray. Dawn would break in an hour or so. As they became able to see each other again, men greeted their mates as if they had not been walking side by side all night.

All the next day the army trudged onward. Ephraim’s stomach felt knotted with hunger. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Whenever the troops came to a small stream, everyone flopped down on their bellies and scooped water through parched lips. Cool water refreshed, but it didn’t help the hunger pangs.

Finally, near dusk on July 10, they reached Gist’s plantation. Christopher Gist, Indian trader and scout, had already heard of the defeat and was ready for them. Washington had reached Dunbar’s camp and sent supplies for the retreating survivors. Bright campfires glowed under huge cauldrons of soup. The aroma brought tears to Ephraim’s eyes. Here, with sentries posted, the army felt somewhat secure for the first time since the French and Indians had surprised them.

Dunbar’s camp was only about twelve miles further up the road, so the next morning General Braddock ordered his army to march again. That evening those who were unhurt and some of the wounded reached the camp. Braddock wanted to leave the next day for Fort Cumberland, but so many more wounded men straggled in on the twelfth that he delayed until the thirteenth.

That evening, rumor spread through the ranks that the general had died. It was true. Realizing that he was dying, General Braddock had turned over command to Colonel Dunbar. The army’s sense of defeat deepened.

The next morning Colonel Dunbar ordered all wagons to be emptied of supplies and ammunition. The wagons were needed to carry the wounded. All the equipment and stores they had carried so far with such difficulty were to be destroyed so they wouldn’t fall into enemy hands.

Ephraim was part of the detail assigned to prepare the general’s grave. They were told to dig right in the middle of the trail.

“Why here?” Ephraim asked his sergeant.

“Colonel Washington wants the whole convoy to march over the grave so the French and Indians can’t find it and desecrate the body,” the sergeant explained.

Ephraim and the others dug. Then they were mustered to stand at attention as the general’s short round body, wrapped in a linen sheet, was lowered into the grave. Ordinarily, for such an important person’s funeral, three rounds of seven pieces of cannon would have been fired as a salute. But the heavy cannons General Braddock had ordered hauled over the Allegheny Mountains had been left behind, and besides, no one wanted to attract the enemy’s attention by gunfire. So the ceremony was simple and quiet.

Ephraim and the other gravediggers shoveled the dirt back into the hole. Ephraim felt sick as his first shovelful of soil struck the shrouded body. Not even a coffin. There should’ve been a box around him, at least, he thought. Then he remembered Charley, whose body probably still lay where he had fallen, unless wolves or wildcats had found it. Ephraim heard again in memory all the cries for help from fallen soldiers along the trail. No burial for them! He shook his head sorrowfully. At least the general got a bit of a funeral.

When Ephraim’s crew had finished filling the grave, all the wagons passed over it. The foot soldiers tramped the earth down as they retreated to Fort Cumberland in silence.


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Charley’s Story



Background:      One of the great battles of the French and Indian War occurred before war was actually declared. The British were the superpower of the 18th century. British General Braddock marched his army from Winchester, Virginia, through previously unbroken wilderness to Fort DuQuesne (now Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania. The French and Indians held Fort DuQuesne, and from there they hoped to take Pennsylvania clear to the east coast, cutting the British colonies in half. In the chapter below, colonials Charley and Ephraim have joined Braddock’s forces on the march to Fort DuQuesne. The following is based on journals of soldiers involved, letters home, military records, and newspaper accounts.


 Around campfires, colonial soldiers smeared bear grease on themselves to ward off mosquitoes and heal bramble scratches. Their feet were sore, and their shoulders ached from carrying heavy packs.

“You’re a sorry sight, Charley,” his buddy Ephraim told him. “Your Molly should see you now!”

“You don’t look so good yourself,” Charley replied, “but look at our friends the British. We can at least stand up and scratch ourselves. They look, whipped, don’t they?”

“Aye, they’re not used to our mountains. These Allegheny mountains ain’t much higher’n the ones I grew up in back East, but it seems our high and mighty British army never seen the like.”

“I don’t mind the mountains. I worry about the horses, though. They look to be starvin’, gettin’ weaker every day. Strippin’ leaves off trees can’t be good for ‘em.”

Ephraim said, “There’s naught but leaves for them to eat. If Braddock doesn’t get us to Fort Duquesne pretty soon, we’ll be eatin’ leaves ourselves.”

Charley looked over his shoulder to be sure no one was listening and then said, “I heard Braddock thought there’d be farmers along the way to feed the army, all the way to the Forks of the Ohio. How many farms have we seen since we left Fort Cumberland?”

“How many did ye expect to see? There’s nobody out here but Indians and a few scattered traders. Do ye suppose there’s enough food in them supply wagons to get us to the Forks?”

“Who knows? But we can shoot game,” Charley answered. “Horses need rye and Indian corn. I think we may end up bein’ pack horses ourselves before we get there.”

“When I was on sentry duty last night, I overheard our Colonel Washington talkin’ to General Braddock. Polite as anything, he says, ‘Sir, at this rate it will take so long to reach fort Duquesne that the French will have reinforcements from Canada before we arrive.’”

“And did the general bite his head off the way he cuts everyone else who tries to talk sense to him?”

“Naw, he just sounded real tired and said, “And what do you suggest, Colonel?’”

“So what was Washington’s idea?”

Ephraim drew himself up as tall as he could to impersonate young Washington’s stately manner. “’Divide the forces. Take your best soldiers forward and leave the supply wagons to follow as well as they can. Take only enough for the battle at the fort, and let the occupying forces and supplies come thereafter.’”

Charley nodded his approval. “What did Braddock think of that?”

“He sorta huffed, ‘That is not good military policy, but at this rate snow will fly before we reach Duquesne! Thank you, sir, for your suggestion.’

“Then he hollered for Colonel Dunbar, who come a runnin’, and he told him, ‘I will take a detachment of 500 men, officers, and the two eldest Grenadier companies ahead to attack Fort Duquesne. You and the rest of the army will follow in slower stages with the heavy baggage, heavy artillery and stores. I will have 1200 officers and men, and you will have 850 coming behind. Keep up as well as you can, but we will not wait for you. Is that clear?”

Charley jumped up to take Colonel Dunbar’s part in Ephraim’s replay. “Yes sir!” Charley saluted. Then, breaking character, he grinned. “I hope we’re in the advance. I’d hate to come this far and miss the battle.”

Charley and Ephraim were volunteers from Virginia. For three long months they had drilled. Then the Virginia militia had joined the British regulars at Fort Cumberland, Maryland, where Wills’s Creek flows into the Potomac River. The long march from Winchester, through bogs and over mountains, had toughened them. Each night they had listened to horror stories told by older soldiers around campfires. They felt prepared for anything.

Often Charley thought of Molly, an Irish indentured servant he had met when he visited Philadelphia on leave. Red-haired, gap-toothed Molly had a gift for gab. She made him laugh when she described her master and mistress, a stiff English couple. There was nothing stiff about Molly. He remembered how agile she was when he chased her and how she fit herself under his arm just so when he caught her. He hoped she’d be waiting for him when he returned. He would impress her with stories of battle and his own bravery.

The march from Fort Cumberland to Fort Duquesne was grueling. Overworked horses dropped dead in their tracks. Wagons that had bounced over endless miles of rocks suddenly fell apart. Troops complained of hunger because supplies lagged so far behind, and there was nothing to eat here in this western wilderness.

Nearly every day Indians picked off a few stragglers at the tail of the line. Each night sentries nervously patrolled the camp. The sudden terrifying whoops of the attackers and the blood-curdling screams of their victims rang out in soldiers’ troubled dreams.

Woodcutters hacked the trail just in advance of the army, felling trees and clearing brush for a roadway wide enough for four wagons side by side. The forest was so dense that for miles at a stretch they could see only about ten feet ahead. Some days the army had been able to cover just three miles.

The procession stretched for four or five miles along the trail. It was the largest military force ever seen in North America. There were 1,445 British regulars, 262 regulars in colonial independent companies, 449 provincial volunteers from Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, and a few friendly Indians. There were even 30 sailors using block and tackle to drag howitzers and cannon from the British ships over the mountains and across rivers.

Dysentery cramped and weakened many soldiers. Colonel Washington himself was so sick that he had to stay behind with the supply wagons for a few days. But today he was back with his men, looking pale but determined.

Today would be the payoff. Today this mighty British army, supplemented by colonial regiments, would wipe out the French garrison at Fort Duquesne and settle forever whether England or France would control the Ohio country. Charley and Ephraim were in the advance.

July 9, 1755, was a fine, bright day. Charley and Ephraim’s spirits were soaring as they marched in formation toward Fort Duquesne. Jaunty fife and drum music carried them forward to what was bound to be a great victory over the outnumbered French. Far ahead they could see the British flag leading the parade. Their weapons gleamed in the sunlight, and everyone wore their best linen uniforms.

About two P.M. the army re-crossed the Monongahela River to the north shore, only ten miles from Fort Duquesne. As Charley and Ephraim stepped ashore, they heard a commotion up the hill toward the front units.

Indian yells curdled the air. Shots rang out from all directions. Smoke rolled through the woods. Ephraim shouted, “It’s begun! The French didn’t wait for us to attack.”

Utter chaos loomed ahead. This wasn’t the kind of battle the British army had anticipated. Charley’s eyes stung and his nose wrinkled from smoking guns. His ears rang with shrill Indian whoops and screams of dying men. His mouth was cottony with fear, and his legs trembled under him as cannon fire rocked the ground.

Colonel Gage’s advance party had passed the first hill and was mounting the second when suddenly they came face to face with French troops and Indian warriors. Both sides fired, and the French commander was killed immediately. Indians, stunned by the roar of the cannons, were about to retreat. Then the French officer second in command ordered his troops to lead the Indians into flank positions and attack the British from the sides.

British soldiers formed their traditional rows. Colonel Gage ordered bayonets fixed for a charge up the hill to the right where the heaviest shooting was coming from. But his men were so terrified by the yells of Indians hidden in the brush on either side that they would not budge.

General Braddock was behind Sir John St. Clair’s detachment. Hearing the commotion, Braddock ordered Colonel Burton and his men to the front to aid Colonel Gage. Then Braddock and Colonel Washington moved forward, leaving the Virginians at the rear.

General Braddock tried to rally his troops, but they refused to fight when they could not see the enemy. The invisible enemy seemed to be everywhere. Braddock, furious, stormed at his soldiers and called them cowards. He even hit some of them with the flat of his sword, but still they refused to move. St. Clair’s forces were crowding them from behind, and enemy fire came from the other three sides. Hunkered down, the British regulars shot at puffs of smoke from whatever direction they came, hoping to hit the enemy.

The Virginia troops were more accustomed than the British to fighting Indians. Charley was relieved when his captain called, “Men, split ranks and take cover behind trees or bushes.”

For the first time since they had recrossed the river, something made sense. Charley and Ephraim threw themselves behind a fallen log. From there, they fired toward the enemy on either side.

“I can’t see what I’m shooting!” Charley shouted.

“Don’t matter. Aim for the smoke. We just need to get out of here alive!”

The British in the center were shooting Virginians on the sides without knowing it and being wounded by Virginia gunfire themselves.

Some of the Pennsylvania wagoners, finding themselves unexpectedly in the midst of a battle, panicked. unhitched their horses, abandoned their wagons, and fled toward the river. Their wagons clogged the battlefield. Whatever was in them became plunder for the French and Indians.

General Braddock saw his officers fall, one after another. His own horse was shot dead. He jumped off, grabbed the reins of a rider-less horse, mounted, and continued leading the attack. Four more horses were shot out from under him. Finally a bullet tore through his arm and lodged in his lung. He fell into the arms of a Virginia captain.

Colonel Washington seemed to be everywhere. Indians took particular aim at him. Though his coat was full of bullet holes, he was uninjured. Finally the Indian chief ordered his men to stop trying to shoot the tall colonial. The Great Spirit must be protecting him.

Charley, crouched between a tree and a bramble bush, fired his musket until his ammunition was gone. He grabbed a gun and pouch from a dead soldier and fired some more. The woods were crawling with Indians. They crept from tree to tree, some shooting, some using tomahawks or knives. And always they kept up that awful yelling.

Charley saw an Indian ready to throw his tomahawk at Ephraim. Charley inched away from his tree and raised his gun.  A terrific pain between his shoulder blades paralyzed him. He couldn’t breathe. Then a hand grabbed his hair and pulled his head back. Charley saw a knife blade coming toward his forehead. He screamed in excruciating pain as his scalp was peeled back. Suddenly released, he fell forward, blood pouring into his eyes. He collapsed. His lungs felt full; he couldn’t breathe in or out. “Molly,” he whispered. Then his body went limp and the world went black.



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Why “Celebrating Author”?

Author of The Snake Fence, More Than an Average Guy, and Broken BladeWhen my first book, More Than an Average Guy, was published, my mother was so excited that she made me a name tag that said, “Janet Kastner, Celebrated Author.” I was excited, too, but I did think that “Celebrated Author” was a bit of an overstatement. So I wore the name tag and announced that it really should say “Celebrating Author.”Now my second book, The Snake Fence, is about to be published, and I’m celebrating again. Publishing and publicizing have changed a great deal in the intervening years. Chel Avery, my editor at Quaker Bridge Media, (Ooooh, let me just say that again: my editor! Yes!  I’m celebrating!) Anyway, Chel gave me a reading list of ways authors can publicize their work, and I have entered a brave new world of domains and widgets, tabs and search engines, webpages and blogs.Meanwhile, I’m working on the next book, Broken Blade, which is still in the research/rough draft stage, but coming along. So my Home Page will have tabs for each of these three books, and my blogs will be about the process of research, writing, and rewriting. I’ll include pictures where appropriate, and I hope  my readers will respond with comments of their own.


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Noble Butler

Noble Butler

I am blessed with having a large book about my maternal grandmother’s genealogy. A kinsman in Pennsylvania, Thomas Butler, worked for years researching family history and published the book Noble Butler of Pennsylvania, Ancestors and Descendants. Noble Butler was brought from Bristol, England, to Philadelphia by his Quaker parents, John and Bersheba Butler, some time between his birth in 1704 and 1711. In 1727 he married Rachel Jones, and they had five sons and one daughter who lived to adulthood.

Thomas Butler’s book holds much more than the family tree. He has included pictures, family letters, wills, inventories of estates, and newspaper articles. As I paged through the years, I was struck with how this Quaker family has been involved in one way or another in every war that ever came along in American history. Quakers are known for pacifism, right? Yet there the Butlers are, either participating in or fleeing every war.

Here in my hands, in this thick book, was raw material for historical fiction. Conflict: internal, among family members, within Meetings, with the greater community, and of course the wars themselves. I decided I would write a series of historical novels spanning the whole of American history with my Quakers as protagonists. What a grand project!

Where to begin? I pored over Thomas Butler’s book till I knew enough about Noble and Rachel’s children to deduce some personality traits. Enoch, the oldest, was the contrary one; John, the unfortunate; Will, the goody-goody (the only one who was never complained of in Meeting); Noble, the adventurer; and Ben, the faithful son who cared for his parents until their deaths and then met his own when he finally set out on a new path. Bersheba was harder to figure out, but I would characterize her as long-suffering. Most women were, then, and very little is written about them. So I tried to concentrate on her husband, John McCowen. From inventories of estates, I could guess at their occupations: most were farmers with some skill in a trade, each one different.

Most of the early records are in Monthly Minute Meetings in libraries and historical societies in the Philadelphia area. My new husband asked me where I wanted to go for our Fall Term Wild Card. He had agreed to live with me in Florida but said he might want to be guest research scholar or professor somewhere from time to time, and I said I would go with him anywhere during Fall Term. We had spent one Fall Term in Edinburgh, his choice, and now it was mine.

“I need the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania if I’m really going to write about the Butlers,” I replied. Fine, he said, he would find a teaching position at one of the many colleges and universities in the area. And so it was that we moved to Pennsylvania for a Fall Term in 1999. While he taught at Villanova and I did my research in Swarthmore, we fell in love with the area and moved there full time in the spring of 2002.

In the quiet of the Friends Historical Library, I pored over Monthly Meeting Minutes on microfiche and paged through books of old records. Finally, I began reading bound volumes of The Pennsylvania Gazette, Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia newspaper. There I found, in the classified ads of early May, 1755, something to start with:

“Forty-one Wagons are immediately wanted, to carry a load of Oats and Indian Corn from Philadelphia to General Braddock at Wills’s Creek, for which they are to be paid twelve pounds each wagon. Protections and passes will be given the Wagoners by authority of the General, to prevent their being impressed, or detained after delivery of their Loads. They are to set out together on Thursday the 29th instant. Apply to Benjamin Franklin, in Philadelphia. Note: several neighbors may conveniently join in fitting out a wagon, as was lately done in the Back Counties. If the Wagons cannot thus be obtained, there must be an Impress.”

General Braddock! The British general on his way from Fort Cumberland on Wills’s Creek to Fort DuQuesne (now Pittsburgh) where he was defeated by the French and Indians! The beginning of the French and Indian War in Pennsylvania!

My Quakers in 1755 wouldn’t fight, but they might have no scruples against making money by delivering supplies to the British army. After all, Noble, Sr., had been dismissed from his Meeting for charging too much interest on a loan. The fine ethical line appealed to me. Whom should I send? What were the Butler offspring doing that spring? Enoch was married, John had left as a Free Man (another story), Will, Noble, and Ben were home on the farm. I’d already pegged Noble as the adventurous one. Born in 1739, he would be sixteen years old. Sixteen-year-olds usually think they are ready to go off on their own, capable of anything required of them. Reading William Butler’s book, I deduced that Noble might have worked hard to separate himself from his father’s domination. He would be the one to make the trip.

But he would need his pa’s wagon and horses, and Pa wouldn’t trust him to make the trip alone. Enoch, newly married, would need that money. Why not send Noble and Enoch together out to Wills’s Creek? With what I had deduced about the two of them, they would not get along. It could be an interesting trip.

Next, I had to calculate the route they might have followed. The Pennsylvania Gazette didn’t mention the wagon train again until their return to Philadelphia, so the route was up to me. The Friends Library has wonderful old maps, hand-drawn, nearly as big as the table-tops in the reading room. Bending over the table, tracing the few old roads, or communications, as they were called then, I plotted the wagon train’s course and began to build my story.

And thus The Snake Fence was conceived. In subsequent postings I’ll tell you some of the adventures I had while researching and writing this book, which will be released by Quaker Bridge Media sometime after the first of the year. Please stay tuned.


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