November 1842, USS Somers, Atlantic Ocean
“Are you afraid of death? Do you fear a dead man? And dare you kill a person?” The questions came in an excited tumble, hushed but insistent.
George King sat on the foremost boom of the USS Somers and restrained himself from shoving the speaker into the ocean below. “I don’t believe I’m particularly anxious to die quite yet, but I do not fear death.”
“And killing a man?” Midshipman Philip Spencer, son of the Secretary of War, pressed him. It was just after mid-watch, the start of the 25th of November, 1842, and the Somers had been at sea since early September. Stars sparkled overhead as the ship cut a course west across the Atlantic.
“If honor is involved, I could kill a man,” King assured him.
Spencer appeared disappointed with the answer. “Can you keep a secret?”
Now King was in a bind. First, it was wrong to be out on the boom according to ship’s regulations. The only reason King had agreed was he sensed that Spencer had something of great importance to say and the situation on the Somers had been deteriorating since the ship had turned around and begun its return cruise from Liberia to St. Thomas. There were one hundred and twenty souls on board the ship, a hundred of them under the age of 18. There were dark whispers that Spencer was up to something and King wanted to know what it was. The boom was one of the very few places on board where a whispered conversation could be had and not have a half-dozen over-hear it whether they tried to or not.
“I can keep a secret,” he said.
There were only two men on board who could navigate the ship other than the handful of officers, and King had not only noted Spencer in the constant company of those two, he’d also seen Spencer pay them money and slip them illegal liquor. King had gone under Boatswains Mate Cromwell’s verbal lashings several times and had great distaste for Seaman Small’s disposition.
“Will you take an oath?” Spencer pressed. He was a tall, thin fellow of nineteen who had seemed amiable enough on the outbound voyage from New York City, but King had seen something in his eyes on first meeting that had never left—a sense of instability in the mind. He’d seen that look before in his own father’s eyes just before the end, and not recognized it then for what it was.
“An oath on what?”
That gave Spencer pause. “On your father.”
King smiled coldly in the dark. “Certainly.”
“I lead a group,” Spencer began, “who will take the ship.”
“Mutiny?” King couldn’t believe he had just said the word. It was unthinkable. There had never been a mutiny in the United States Navy.
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