Watertown, August 1676-April 1677
Although many local militias had said it, Captain Benjamin Church was the first to act on the common knowledge. After surviving a serious injury and enduring Major Josiah Winslow’s disastrous decisions in the Great Swamp Battle, he struck his own path and created the Rangers. He organized a special troop of fighters trained by Indians to fight like Indians. His troop of rangers, a full-time unit mixing white colonists selected for their frontier skills with friendly Native Americans coincided with the change in warfare methods after Turner’s ambush at Great Falls. The rangers attacked settlements and camps where Indians sought to plant or fish. Those Indians who survived the ambushes were rounded up and sold into slavery. On August 12, an informant let them know Metacom’s location. They routed them in a swamp near his homeland in New Hope, and an Indian ranger shot him. On September 22, he was beheaded and quartered, the British punishment for treason. The magistrates then sold Metacom’s wife and son to slavers headed to the Barbados.
After Boston had officially declared the war ended, settlers throughout the colony scrambled to recover losses not recovered for fifty years. However, Lord Randolph, hired to look into the Indian war, sent to the King a report that vastly overestimated both the wealth of the colonial settlements and the numbers of settlers. In short order, he’d alienated himself, and he’d become the most hated man in Massachusetts. Selectmen throughout Massachusetts were staggering under the debts that arose when the King raised tax rates five hundred percent.
In October, Suzanne stooped over the dry stalks of yarrow in her garden to cover them with leaves for the winter, when she felt her stomach wrench and the sting of the acrid fluid that overflowed into her nose. The sting and the sour stench. She didn’t feel feverish or weak. Morning sickness? she asked herself. It must be. I’m with child again! Is there a worse time? They were all immersed in harvesting crops and preserving food for the winter, an intensive time any year that kept them working dawn to past dusk. Still, she calculated, counting the months, the baby will be born in May, weather warming but not too hot. She’d take any advantage she could get.
She’d spent her autumn harvesting what crops she could after the long conflict, with Will, Ben, and Abigail’s help. Most often, Joseph was ill, unable to work. If winter was too long, they’d run out of food by spring. Abigail took charge of storing roots in the cellar, husking corn seed and grinding some portion for flour. Ben and Will harvested and stored hay and silage for the cows and horses. The weather had almost cooled enough, barring an Indian summer, to begin slaughtering pigs; cooled enough to preserve salt cured hams and bacon. These and any game they caught would hang in the loft preserve. Mother Sherborn had brought bushels of apples to bury in the cellar and a large barrel of cider that would harden with a good frost. But they were short one hand. As the fall progressed, Joseph had shown worsening symptoms of consumption.
Knowing that some victims recovered (though many more died of it), she held the hope he had an advantage that could save him: her and Philip’s care. No one in Massachusetts had a better chance than a man with two medical practitioners attending him. Joseph, though, was the worst possible patient. He couldn’t bear watching the family add all his tasks to their own. Time and again, he ignored their prescriptions that he eat more and rest. The result was the telltale wasting away until his clothing hung on him and he stood like an empty scarecrow by the fire too restless to sit.
Once winter arrived in earnest, Suzanne had to force him to eat. Meals lengthened into bouts of argument, and Philip was at last able to make him rest when Joseph lost strength daily with nature’s prescription. By the solstice, with barely eight hours of light, he could stay in bed long hours. The boys had moved back into the house, taking the two beds left by their apprenticed sisters.
In her eighth month of pregnancy, Suzanne could barely cross the great room without getting out of breath. The skin on her legs and ankles felt so tight it would burst. It won’t be long, she thought. This too shall pass. Repeating this phrase from the Bible made the tasks go by easier. She swept the breadcrumbs from the table. Mary and Samuel had left for school with Joseph, who was charged with “big brother” protector role. Richard Norcross demanded the children be punctual, which made every school day one of tension as she sped them out the door. Joseph was still asleep, and she was glad for it. Will was in town on business. Abigail was sitting with Hannah, who played with blocks on the floor.
She could hear the rain, steadily beating on the cider barrel by the window. The damp doesn’t help, she thought, stretching out one foot and viewing her plump, swollen ankle with dismay. Through the window, she could see the few blossoms that raised above the leaf mold bowed low under the pelting cold rain. Snowdrops and spring beauties can survive any punishment, she thought, watching the rain turn to large flakes of snow. At that moment, she heard the knock on her door.
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