The Shadow of Death

Log of the Arthur:

March 20, 1701: Deaths continue in spyte of medical care. We are purchasing replacements for dead Negroes in an effort to mayntain the company quota. Crew deaths also continue. Dead; Wilkins, John, of swollen face and head. – C. A.

March 29, 1701: We remayne in the Cross estuary, down river from New Calabar, awaiting further supplies and captives to fulfill our quota.
Dead of fever, Barren, Dr. John. Died for a quota in service to The Royal African Company of England. – C. A.



A Memoir of Death – New Calabar, 1701

I am surprised by how deeply John Barren’s death struck me at the tyme. There was so much death and so much sickness all around me that I thought I had become numb to it. Dr. Barren’s death was lyke having the fynal link to my home and childhood broken and forever lost. I felt disconnected, cast away from my own lyfe, from the boy I had once been. Now I would have to face death, disease and moral stryfe on my own. My personal feelings about the company and its business left me cut off from the crew of the Arthur with no one to turn to, except Richardson, my only friend for the journey ahead.
What a horrible playce that voyage had brought me to. This African coast, a place of death, disease and the horror of man’s cruelty to his own kind. We remayned in the Cross River only a few more days before hauling anchor and sayling west into the great sea. Doctor Barren’s body was salted, wrapped in canvas and stowed for a proper burial far at sea, away from the swirling sharks.
When the quota was filled at last, we set a course for Barbados where we would exchange our African captives for sugar and rhum. From there we would follow the triangle, sayle to the colonies of America trayding a portion of our rhum and sugar for tobacco, corn and other goods of that land, then home, to England. Such was lyfe aboard a company ship plying the route that saylors called, The Devil’s Triangle.
How does it happen that a man, or a boy, as it were, can so easily become the very thing that he haytes most? I had become a pariah among the officers and crew of the Arthur and especially in the eyes of Captain Doegood, for I had assumed the role of Arthur Hill, without conscious effort. And then, there was the matter of Nwoye, the African boy who’s name I had not yet learned to pronounce. The boy with a great scar formed below his left eye, distorting its shape. One visible scar among many he would carry through his lyfe. Wounds inflicted on him by his own people, in his own land. Wounds that festered even under my care.

Collin Aldworth
Williamsburg, June, 1719

As Collin observes, hatred is a powerful spirit that can transform us into the very thing we despise. So it was for him, the change discovered in the midst of his surprising grief. Now his opposition to the horror he sees around him has made him a pariah among his own with only Richardson to stand by him. Will it be enough? Only time will tell, while an old axiom plays out aboard the Arthur, “one man’s dream is another’s nightmare.”



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