Path to Freedom Chapter 5
Christopher Baldwin

Sylvie felt sick to her stomach.

She didn’t want to talk about Jane McCrea. She didn’t want to think about Jane McCrea.

But that was all anyone was talking about.

And there was no way to get away from the other women. The sun had finally come out and this was their chance to do laundry, gathered around the big kettles the army had furnished, dipping the clothes and bedding in the hot water and scrubbing them with lye soap.

Clean, wet clothes were spread over bushes to dry, but there was plenty more to tend to. It had been over a week since there had been a day without at least some rain.

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The Path to Freedom

The Path to Freedom is an eight-part Newspapers in Education serial story on upstate New York's role in the American Revolutionary War, running Wednesdays in The Citizen and on auburnpub.com from March 29 to May 17. This project is funded by New York State United Teachers and the New York Newspapers Foundation.

“And her a Tory!” Mrs. Van Vleet exclaimed, wringing out a shirt with an extra twist of anger. “Didn’t Burgoyne promise we’d all be safe from his Hurons if we swore allegiance to the king?”

“Well, Tory or patriot, she didn’t deserve to be killed and scalped anyway,” Mrs. Morrison said. “And don’t tell me they didn’t know; they were taking her to her boyfriend in Burgoyne’s own camp.”

“At least her cousin was spared,” another woman said, and Sylvie softly said, “She wasn’t her cousin.”

The women paused, and Mrs. Morrison softened her tone. “Did you know them?” she asked.

“I knew Mrs. McNeill better,” Sylvie said, then corrected herself. “I know Mrs. McNeill better.”

Sarah McNeill, after all, was still alive.

“But Jane’s brother came to the sawmill for lumber when he first moved to Fort Edward a few years ago, and she came along now and then,” Sylvie went on. “She seemed nice.”

“For a Tory,” Mrs. Van Vleet sniffed, but Sylvie corrected her.

“Her fiancé is a Tory,” she admitted. “I don’t know what she thought. Her brother John is in the Albany militia and most of the family is patriot.”

“Well, she didn’t deserve it, whatever she believed,” Mrs. Morrison said. “Especially since Burgoyne promised we’d all be safe if we were good loyalists, and killed by his Hurons if we weren’t.”

It was true: Opa had brought one of the posters home when he went into town. Burgoyne had written that anyone who signed a promise to be loyal, and who supplied the army with food from their farms, would be safe, but that those who refused would be attacked by his Indian scouts.

Mrs. Morrison finished and Sylvie took her place at the kettle, dipping a pair of her father’s breeches into the hot, soapy water first. It would be easy enough to get Luke fresh clothing, but, if Papa came through the camp, she wanted to have some dry, clean clothing ready for him.

Opa, Mama and the little ones had left for Uncle Peter’s in Schenectady after British foragers came through and took the cow. They carried off the rest of the feed and as many of the chickens as they could catch, but some of the hens fled into the woods and, after charging them bravely a few times, the rooster flew up on the peak of the sawmill roof, where it wasn’t worth powder and shot to bring him down.

Luke, Sylvie and their father had found the house and sawmill empty as the army passed by, moving to stay ahead of the British who were now camped at Fort Edward.

“Ol’ rooster will have gathered those hens and raised up a whole new flock for us by the time this is over,” Papa had said, when he read Opa’s note by the hearth. Before they moved on, he propped open the side door to the empty barn so the chickens could find shelter and clean up the spilled oats scattered over the dirt floor.

Many of the local farmers had left in a hurry, and now Luke and the horses had gone with a troop of soldiers foraging. Any grain or animals left behind was to be gathered up for the Continental Army or destroyed to keep it from the British.

Sylvie didn’t like being left in camp to worry about Luke and their father, but she had the company of the other women, and they were all worried about their men.

It didn’t make for a happy company, but it was company nonetheless, and Mrs. Morrison, whose husband was also a wagoner, had pitched camp next to Sylvie and Luke so they could share whatever food and tools they had.

Other women had even brought children, so there was laughter and play throughout the day, when they weren’t all huddled in their tents and lean-tos against the frequent rains.

A bare-chested soldier sat under a nearby tree, and Mrs. Morrison took a damp shirt and went towards her tent for mending tools.

“I’ll have this patched up for you and you can stay until it dries or take it wet,” she told him. “Have you eaten? I’ve a bit of cold pease porridge I was saving in case my husband came back, but I don’t think he’ll be here before nightfall.”

The soldier stood to walk with her. “That sure would be fine, ma’am,” he said. “I need to get back. I wasn’t supposed to be gone longer than to carry a message.”

“Well, you can’t go back with your shirt torn,” she insisted, and he nodded agreement.

“I’m gone long enough now, I’ll be in trouble anyway,” he smiled.

“Then you’ll be in trouble with a full belly and a clean, mended shirt,” Mrs. Morrison told him.

Text copyright 2017, Mike Peterson; illustration copyright 2015, Christopher Baldwin.

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