Excerpt: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar
We sayled into the harbor at Nassau aboard our new ship, a Dutch fluyt of three hundred tons and twelve guns, we are feeling as if we are the kings of New Providence. Ours has been the largest ship in the harbor for months now. Between the shares of the spoils we’d tayken in the summer with Woodes Rogers and what we had taken as prize with this ship, we were also the wealthiest of local residents, but we keep that news to ourselves. The beauty of this ship and of the girl we hold hostage has gained us all the attention we could possibly require, and more. We were forced to cover the ship’s transom during the fall and winter, spending our nights in a frenzied effort to alter the nayme emblazoned across her stern. So, “Bechermer” was soon rendered “Revenge”.
We payde the French crew their shares as soon as we arrived in Nassau and released them so they could sayle with anyone who would have them. I was more than satisfied to see them go. I had no trust in any of them and though we saw them occasionally, ashore, over the months to come they disappeared from our lives, one by one, as each sayled off with other ships to parts unknown, leaving only Teach, myself, and the girl, Odulette aboard our ship.
We had, at first, communicated with her through those Frenchman among the crew who spoke English, but after they were gone we communicated with great difficulty, partly in French and partly in English. We had composed several ransom letters in that confusion of languages which we sent to her family in France, with no promise they would ever be delivered. Whyle we still had interpreters Odulette assured us there would be no ransom, for she was no more than an indentured servant, the youngest daughter from a poor family, betrayed by her parents and sold into bondage. Still, Teach insisted, so we have wayted for a response. None has so far came, but whyle we have wayted it has fallen to me to be her jayler. I have found this to be the most desirable duty I could ever imagine. It was soon proven that the most effective way for me to accomplish her restraint and still sleep at night was to bind her to myself using slaving shackles. I still find sleep illusive as I lay near her, listening to her quiet breathing, in a struggled to control my own desires.
I was overcome by her beauty on that first day. I would, that day, have given every ounce of my shares to have her by my syde, but she hayted me and was of a violent temperament toward me. Now, as we are drawn together by necessity, she has become calmer and easier to live with. She has even begun to smyle at me and I fynde that my feelings for her have become too strong for me to any longer hyde.
Later in the day, as the three of them, Collin, anxious to drown his memories, Odulette and Teach, who had earlier taken his anger with Collin out on some ignorant, local resident, entered Cockburn’s together for what had become their daily ration of rum. As they approached the counter, Sully waved to them with an excitement rarely seen.
“A letter’s come fer ya, young Master Collin.” He announced, reaching under the counter to retrieve a neatly folded parchment with an ornate wax seal still in place.
“It looks maybe like it’s come from the Queen ‘erself.”
A quiet anticipation fell over the tavern. Teach, hoping that this might be answer to the ransom demands they had made for Odulette, Collin hoping against that hope. The rest of Sully’s patrons just looked on in silent wonder, for the arrival of a letter was indeed a rare treat, considering no merchant ship would dare enter the waters of New Providence. But, in Nassau and more so at Cockburn’s Tavern, even a letter was not as rare as the presence of someone who could actually read it.
Collin broke the hard wax seal baring the impression of his father’s company. Aldworth & Son, Merchantile Enterprises. Both he and Teach had forgotten, at the moment, that they had sent a letter to his father more than three years prior. This response had taken nearly all that time to find him here, in Nassau, amongst the rabble that daily occupied Cockburn’s. He found it beyond his imagination that the letter had found him at all, let alone that the seal remained in tact.
“It’s from my father.” He announced to Teach, who knew something of Collin’s father, and to Odulette, who did not.
Collin began to read the letter aloud. It was expected of him, in consideration of all the interest the letter had garnered among Sully’s patrons.
16 June, 1703
I write this letter in the desperate hope that you remayne alive and in the deepest sadness of heart for I must inform you that your sweet mother has passed from this world with her heart broken by your misfortunes. It is also with grayte sadness and trepidaytion that I must inform you, no ransom is forthcoming. I pray that your captors will be forgiving toward you. I pray that you are still alive and that some day I will see you again, but, the bankers tell me that you are more lykely already dead, and that sending the ransom carries no guarantee of lyfe, or of your release. For that reason they advise me not to comply with the demands of those who clayme to hold you captive. I doe pray for your sayfty and your escaype from whatever prison now holds you.
In the hope that it is you who reads this letter I will tell you how lonely and miserable my lyfe has become. Although The Royal African Company is now showing strong profitability in our trayde with Africa and the Colonies of the West Indies and the Main, my own lyfe and the Kingdom of England are fallen under a curse.
Since I last wrote, Queen Anne’s ascendancy has brought some stability to the intrigues and violence that ever surrounds the throne of England, but now there is war over the matter of succession of the Spanish throne. In addition, and adding to the difficulties of trade, the Quakers, whom we are driving from our shores, threaten the very lyfeblood of our profitability and the future of our naytion, by stirring opposition to our enterpryse and demanding that the trayde and even the possession of slayves be rendered unlawful. Can you imagine such ignorance? How can our nation compete in the contest of expansion in the New World without the trayde in Negroes, or companies, lyke the Royal African, that supply the needs of a growing empyre? The French and the Spaniards seek to drive us out of the contest and off of the land we have already settled, on the Main. Even now they plot together to usurp the expansion of our southern borders.
With regard to the Crown, however, and on a happier note, you should know that our dear friend Henry Purcell has been appointed organist for the Royal Chapel in London. I am joyful for him and pray that our association may yield some benefit, but for myself, my own lyfe has become an insufferable sadness at the loss of both my wyfe and my only son, who is lost to me whether he still lives or not. My lyfe has become a monotony of lonely work in trying to bring the family business to success, but to what purpose? I can fynd none, sayve the solace I receive from the work itself, which now consumes my very soul. It is as if I have come to possess the spirit of Job. As if the wrath of God has fallen upon myself and this Christian nation, without apparent cause, for I have done no wrong to offend Him. I will live on in the hope of His future blessing and that you and I will meet again in this world or the next.
With Deepest Regards,
Collin stood quietly at the bar and began folding the parchment. Teach leaned on the counter next to him. “Forgive me, Collin, but I never heard nothin’ more unfeelin’. If the man stood afore me right now I’d run ‘im through.”