A Historical Trilogy

I've never considered writing historical fiction. There was just too much to research. But I'm warming to my Walraven Trilogy.

I've written three scenes for the early part of Oliver's Journal. I have to Google with almost every sentence I write, but it's coming along..... Oliver, btw, is seventeen, the oldest child of the family.

Oliver's Journal
by Connie Chastain

Prologue

March 20, 1709
Reeds Ferry, North Carolina

My name is Oliver Walraven. I have of recent days appointed myself the scribe of my family. This appointment was occasioned by a momentous change in our lives and, it is hoped, our fortunes.

To-day is the eve of our departure from our familiar and comfortable home in Reeds Ferry. Our destination is New France -- not the settled and civilized portions of Quebec, but the wilds bordering the upper coast of the Gulf of Mexico, along the shores of Mobile Bay, where a parcel of land measuring above 1,000 acres, and virtually nothing else, awaits us.

The distance between us and our new home is above 600 miles and will take many weeks to traverse. Our party comprises my father, Jesper Walraven, and my mother, Olivia, for whom I am named; my two younger brothers, Caleb and Daniel, and little sister Abigail. I must not leave out Caesar, our faithful hound, who is as much a part of the family as any of us human pups.

Our transportation comprises two wagons canopied with canvas, and three others, smaller but with tall sides and covered with tarpaulins. Each wagon is pulled by two oxen, some of which we plan to retain in our new home, and some we hope to trade or sell. All of the wagons are tightly packed with our possessions, including my mother's prized porcelain dinnerware and pewter, her a spinning wheel and a few pieces of small furniture. Unfortunately, the wagons were not of sufficient size or quantity to contain everything, and we had to sell or give away many items.

In the last wagon are wooden crates for what livestock we can bring -- two goats, two sheep, a small heifer, a recently farrowed sow and her still-nursing brood. Our single cow, Ruby, two mules and a Pa's fine mare, Nollie, will be tethered to the last wagon and walk the distance.

When the idea first came to me to become the chronicler of my family's events and adventures, I had intended to keep my personal opinions and expressions out of the narrative, but I realize that is impossible. I am a part of this family and what happens will bear upon me as much as anyone else.

We are all, myself included, of two minds regarding this fateful upheaval, this new beginning for our future. We are eager for untrodden land and a new life; but it is sobering to leave behind home, neighbors, and church. However, Pa is the son of a full-blooded Dutchman, and he claims to have inherited his independent spirit from grandfather. I don't know if such can be passed as a hereditary trait, or a learned one, because all of us children also prize independence.

That is what gives this event such appeal. Here in Reeds Ferry, a few hours ride from Albemarle, life is becoming regulated. Like other towns and hamlets in the eastern colonies, it is gradually filling with people, and when that happens, everyone must practice to accommodate others. The population of La Mobile, which is reported to be twenty or so miles across the delta to the west of our land numbers a few hundred.. The Indians are far more numerous, but we have been assured by the governor's land agent that they stay in their places and do not come around La Mobile except on trade days.

The land agent, a Mr. Bondurant, has written to us that the area is unspoiled and beautiful. Some 30 miles south of our acreage, the seashore comprises a beach of sand so brilliantly white it is said to cause temporary blindness. The vegetation ranges from densely shaded forests to grasslands suitable for grazing animals, marsh grasses, wild flowers and beautiful flowering trees and shrubs.

Our parcel -- ours by a grant from His Excellency, Governor Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville to my father -- is located in the delta where several rivers and tributaries stream into Mobile Bay. We are told that it is bordered on the South by a sizable inlet in the upper shore called Oklanoka Bay, on the west by the narrow Arnon River, a tributary of the Tensaw River, which it joins just before flowing into the bay, on the east by an old Indian trail with no name, and on the north by a slight ridge.

I must admit that I am eager to see it and to take possession. Everyone in the family has worked hard to leave behind a rental home and hireling status, and become independent land owners ready to civilize a wilderness.

I pray that the Deity will bless our efforts, watch over us during our journey and keep us safe. There are many perils facing overland travelers, even on roads that are becoming established, such as those we will travel -- Indians, bandits, wild animals, inclement weather, sickness. But our grandfather made his journey across a vast ocean to a new land, to independence, utterly alone and his blood flows in our veins.

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April 3, 1709
Deer Head Tavern and Trading Post

It has been a fortnight since we left on our journey to a new life. I had hoped, indeed, had planned, to write in my journal much more frequently, but there has been no time. At the end of each day, the beasts traveling with us have to be fed and watered, a fire made, supper prepared, consumed, and cleaned up after, and the wagons secured for the night.

After Mama, Abigail and Daniel climb into the lead wagon with Caesar and fall into exhausted sleep, Pa, Caleb and I begin our night watches. Our watches are about two and a half hours long. While one is on watch, the other two sleep. There might be time during this interlude to write, but there is little light. The camp fire and pine-knot torches are barely adequate for sight. And then there is the matter of my reluctance to set my precious ink on the uneven ground and risk losing it in a spill.

But tonight, we are indoors. I am seated at a table with a fine lamp next to me. My journal with its beautifully bound pages lies open before me. When I will find these conditions again I do not know.

The proprietor, a Mr. Comstock, and his Cherokee wife, gave us a hearty welcome. They rarely see travelers and confessed that they may have chosen an inadvantageous location for their enterprise.

I nevertheless am grateful the tavern is here, and that we found it. The journey thus far has been grueling but successful, except for the loss of a piglet we found dead three days ago. We could not ascertain why it died and were worried for the rest of the brood, although they all seem healthy.

Every few days, when we come across a stream, we stop just long enough to fill the water barrels and to fish and hunt. We have had fresh meat -- rabbit and squirrel -- and fish for about half the journey thus far. It appears that our other food stores -- a mountain of potatoes and sweet potatoes, sacks of dried beans and more that we brought with us -- will get us through the journey, as long as we continue to have good hunting and fishing.

The only thing I really miss is bread -- biscuits, butter and honey, and cornbread with beans. We have everything necessary to make them, except time.

We've had a few scares. A mountain lion investigated our encampment a week ago while we were eating supper. Pa and I grabbed our muskets while Daniel held onto Caesar and clamped a hand around his muzzle, but the beast apparently lost interest and wandered off. Caleb almost stepped on a timber rattlesnake several days ago. He froze. He later said he was willing himself to move and grab a hatchet from the wagon, but the rattler slithered away before he could act. He was shaken and it took a while for him to collect himself and tell us about the encounter.

We are following a rough map drawn for us by a traveler, a self-described explorer, who stopped in Reeds Ferry on his way back to Virginia, after a journey through the wilderness and several years sojurn along the Mississippi River. He was the source of tales and information that held our rapt attention for days when we first decided to migrate.

The roads we are traveling widely skirt the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains. This is the Piedmont, where we encounter many obstructions and rough terrain. It is hard on the wagons. We inspect the wheels, axles, suspension and such at every stop, but as long as we traverse this rough land, it is just a matter of time before one of them breaks down. Thus, although it will add days to our journey, Pa has decided to eschew the map and angle southeastward, toward the Atlantic coast, where he hopes we will find smoother terrain.

The roads through this wilderness follow Indian trails, which themselves follow animal trails that have been millennia in the making. They lead to hunting grounds, grazing places, streams and watering holes. I do not know what sort of roads we will find on the coastal plain.

We have encountered very few savages, although I suspect they are often hidden just out of sight and are watching us. We packed a small supply of objects for trade, should we have need of them but thus far, have not had a face-to-face encounter. Those we have seen in the distance did not attempt to molest us. They inspected our wagons and muskets from their position several yards away. Presumably, finding us no threat, they did not attempt to hinder out travel. Pa hopes that we will encounter a village or group of Indians farther South who can advise us when to turn back to the west, toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Pa prays each night at the campfire, holding his well-worn Holy Bible in his hands even though it is too dark to read scripture. We hear their comforting message, anyway, as Pa has many passages committed to memory. I am certain his entreaties to the Lord God of Hosts for protection is the reason we have suffered no calamities.

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May 15, 1709
Somewhere in British Territory

Some days ago, we altered direction from the southeast to the southwest. We remain in the mid-region of the coastal plain, which is hilly and covered with thick vegetation. The Indian trails we are following are sometimes barely wide enough for our wagons to traverse, small though they be.

A few times, however, we have come across open land with few or no trees, which seem to be the result of great fires. Some apparently occurred long ago, others more recently, judging by the stages of returning life, the thickness of grassy areas, shrubs and scrub, and saplings. We pause at these places and let the livestock graze for a while.

It is wondrous to see the tenacity of life that the Creator bestowed upon the earth.

We are all fatigued beyond expression, and that has slowed our progress, a circumstance that troubles us. But Papa says we must continue slow and steady, and not try to hurry and wear ourselves out, for there will be prodigious amounts of work to do from the moment we arrive -- land to clear, fences and shelter to build for the stock and a domicile for ourselves, a garden to plant, even though it will be mid-summer when we arrive, and rain catchers for drinking water, until a proper cistern can be constructed. It is possible we can dig a well this purpose, but both Papa and I suspect brackish water intrusion if the well is located too close to the shore; but it can't be so far away that fetching water will be laborious and time consuming.

As soon as these initial endeavors permit, we will construct a raft for sculling to LaMobile for trading, and for fishing in the nearby rivers.

So many nights on the journey, Papa and I have talked of these things, of the life that awaits us.

The mention of rivers reminds me to note that this land of everlasting forests is also the land where rivers abound. We have been most fortunate in locating shallows that we can fjord, as the land hereabouts is uninhabited and ferries are unneeded.

Mama is looking forward to finding out what wild things grow on the Gulf Coast useful for food or medicine. She was an enthusiastic and near expert forager back home, and has even done a smattering on the journey, flavoring rabbit stew with pungent and tasty wild onions. She also harvested a small amount of gensing for her medicine box.

I'm glad she found it, in case it is needed, though I hope it won't be. Abigail has us all a touch worried. She's tired, as we all are, but peaked, too, almost like she's fevered, though her skin feels normal to the touch. She's been listless for several days. We have insisted that she ride in the wagon, although she says the ride is too bumpy, and she wants to walk with the rest of us. Daily, we bring her to the attention of Our Heavenly Father.