Morristown- 1777

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
William Danbury has been serving under General Washington since the start of the war. After the successful capture of Trenton the troops are now returning to Morristown, New Jersey for the winter stay. William is ecstatic because it's been months since he's been home and can't wait to see his family. However, he is unprepared to know this is will be the last.

Submitted: November 28, 2011

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Submitted: November 28, 2011

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Serving as a rebel soldier was no easy task. The battles were intense, the marching tiring, and the winters rough. Many were simple merchants or farmers who knew nothing of war and combat. However, unlike the British soldiers, the Rebels had something else--something worth fighting for. Freedom is essentially something everyone desires to have. It can lead people to do many things even to a point of certain extremes. To some, nothing is too extreme when fighting for something they believe in, even death.

Morristown, New Jersey- 1777

The rebel soldiers trudged through the snow brought by the cold winter season. Many carried muskets nearly as big as they were and most of them seemed fatigued from their long journey. Despite having the victory of Princeton fueling them many of the soldiers were thankful to finally reaching Morristown for the winter. One soldier in particular, was looking forward to their four month stay-- William Danbury, the son of a local farmer, was happy to be returning home to his family. It had been some time since he had seen them and he wanted nothing more than to be reunited. With this in mind, William kept a quick pace and continued into the heart of town.

William had been told General Washington and his soldiers would be stationing their headquarters at Jacob Arnold's Tavern, where several people were waiting to welcome them. William looked around at all the familiar sites he was used to in the Morristown Green and skimmed the crowd for familiar faces. He was beginning to fall discouraged when a familiar voice filled the air. A hand clasped down on his shoulder and he jumped a little in a scare.

"William, my boy!" Thomas Danbury spun his son around and pulled him close. Much to Williams’s bewilderment his father still possessed a strong grip. "Hello, father." He managed through the intensity of his father's embrace. "It's great to see you. How have you been? Killing a few Red-Coats here and there I presume?" Thomas stepped back from his son and laughed his familiar crackling laugh, a twinkle in his green eyes. William laughed sheepishly and pushed his hand through the mop of sand colored hair on his head, "Can't say I've killed anyone yet, I'm afraid.” Thomas laughed again, " O' course not. Come now, your Mother and sister are waiting to see you." Thomas motioned for his son to follow and they walked the familiar route to the Danbury home.

The girl stood by the window watching the Rebel soldiers, marching down the lane, into town. Snow fell gently past the window, landing on the ground below; it didn't seem to bother them for they continued to march. Her hazel eyes gazed longingly as she inspected the face of every boy that walked past. Sarah was looking for William, her brother, who had gone to serve under General Washington. They all seemed to be walking with a peculiar spring in their step as if the victory of Princeton was fueling them.

With the victory and successful capture of Trenton, they were now returning to Morristown, for the winter, so she would be able to see him again. "Sarah, darling, come from the window." Sarah turned to her mother who was making tea. "Mother, when will William be here? The soldiers are returning but I have yet to see him." she whined, sitting at the kitchen table. "I know, dear, you must be patient. Your father went into town to get him." As if responding to a queue, Thomas opened the door to his home and pushed through, William following behind him.

"William!" Sarah jumped up from the table and ran to the door, past her father and jumped into her brother's arms. William welcomed the embrace with an 'umph' glad to see his little sister again. "It's great to see you, Sarah." he said petting her soft brown hair. "I do believe you had a birthday last week. How old are you now, nine? No, eight." he pulled back and laughed at his joke and he watched Sarah's face twist into a scowl. "I'm eleven now, you numpty." she said.

"You be nice to your sister now, William." His mother said walking over to greet him as well. "She's been asking about you all week." William chuckled to himself and bent down slightly to kiss his mother on the cheek. "Good to see you, Mum." he said. The plump Anne Danbury smiled at her son and wiped her hands on her apron. "It's good to see you too, William. Come dear, I'll get you a spot of lunch"

***

Weeks passed and the presence of the Rebel soldiers was calming down, many of those living in Morristown grew used to seeing them and some even started befriending them. William spent a lot of his time at the Tavern with other soldiers and on occasion his father would even join him for a tot of ale.

"Did you hear about them Red-Coats staying down at the barn?" asked Adam James, one of the Rebel soldiers.

“I hear they're spying on General Washington, making' sure he don't send troops out for a sneak attack." said Jacob Miller.

William sucked his teeth, "I don't know about that. There aren't very many over there, just a few. Reckon they're just trying to stay out of the wind."

"I dunno, mate. They looked rather suspicious." Adam said, finishing the last of his drink. “William!" A young man around the age of the others was walking over to his companion's table, "Mind if I join you?" William smiled at his fellow solider and motioned for him to sit, "Not at all, John."

"What are you boys talking about over here?" he asked moving his coat from under him.

"About them nasty Red-Coast o'er in the barn." Jacob said, "We think they're spying on us."

"They do, I don't." William corrected. John nodded to himself.

"I say we go tar em." Adam said with a wicked grin, "Show 'em to watch where they are steppin'."

"I say we just kill 'em." Jacob offered mimicking the motion of slitting an invisible man's throat, "Nice and quite like, so no one hears."

"I say we leave them be." William said shaking his head, "They aren't hurting anything."

"Not yet." John said. "Gentlemen, let's not get carried away."

"William!" Thomas came in through the Tavern door, "Your mother requests you home for dinner, my boy." he said.

William turned back to his friends and smiled, "Duty calls. I'll see you tomorrow." He got up from the table and walked past the bar to the door. A man watched him as he left.

The father and son walked back through the snow to their home where dinner awaited them nice and hot. William had been enjoying his share of decent meals since all he was given in the military was a pound of bread, a pound of meat, a gill of dry beans or peas, and a gill of rum-- and he was lucky if he got half of that.

"This is great, Mum." William said from his spot at the table. Sarah sat across from him and pushed her food around the plate. "What's wrong, Sarah?" he asked her. She looked across from him with the most notorious puppy-dog face in all of the thirteen colonies, "Can't you stay here tonight, William?" William sucked his teeth and pushed his tongue around the inside of his mouth in thought. "I have to go back with the soldiers at night, Sarah." He said sincerely. "I'm sure they won't miss you for one night, Will." Sarah insisted. William looked to his parents to help but neither of them said anything. Feeling guilty for already missing her birthday he grunted, "Okay, Sarah, I will stay tonight--only for tonight though, you hear?" She smiled triumphantly and jumped up from her seat, "I'll go get the extra blankets from my room!" she said rushing from the table.

That night William lay in his old room staring into the dark ceiling. He had laid with Sarah, telling her stories about his adventures in the army and the things hes done since he left, until she was fast asleep. He missed this idea of home-life and couldn't wait for the war to be over so he could come home permanently. After several moments of looking up at the ceiling he closed his eyes and drifted off into a welcomed sleep.

The morning began quite early as a loud banging noise echoed through the household. Mr. Danbury climbed out of bed and cursed to himself as he shuffled to the front door. "Who could possibly be knocking at this hour?" he thought to himself as he opened the door. Two men in stunning red coats.

"Are you Thomas Danbury, father of William Danbury?" The taller of the two men asked. His face was pale and his hair was a dark brown. The expression on his face was one Thomas did not find welcoming. "I am, yes. Is there a problem?"
"Where is your son?" from the shorter, this time.

Thomas looked over his shoulder in the direction of William's bedroom, "He's asleep in his room, why?"

"Fetch him." The taller said. Thomas nodded and walked back to his son’s room. William lay sleeping in his bed. "William, William get up." His father said shaking his son. William opened his eyes warily and looked at his father, "What is it, Father?" Thomas stepped back to give his son room to move. "There are British soldiers here looking for you. They request your presence." William suddenly felt more awake and began pulling his boots on. "For what?" he asked.

"They didn't say, I'm afraid. Come now, hurry, mustn't keep them waiting."

William grabbed his regimental coat and walked out to the front room of the house. "What can I help you with, gentlemen?" he said to the British soldiers who were waiting impatiently by the door. Mrs. Danbury was now stirring around and frantically began questioning her husband what was going on.

"You are William Danbury?" the tall soldier asked. William nodded, "Yes that would be me." The shorter stepped forward, "You are hereby arrested for the murder of Sergeant William F. Harris. Come this way." Without further explanation the men took hold of William and pulled him from the house.

"Arrested? He hasn't killed anyone!" Thomas declared but the soldiers said nothing more.

William was shoved into the back of a carriage with another young man who looked strikingly familiar. "John? Is that you?" he asked. It was hard to tell because of the large bruises covering John's face. John turned to William, "William? Boy is it great to hear a familiar voice."

William shifted in his restraints. "What are you here for?" he asked curiously.

"They said I killed someone, can you believe it? I haven't done anything." John protested. William sucked his teeth, "That's what they got me for as well. I didn't do anything."

The young men sat quietly in the moving carriage, listening to the sound of trotting horses. Hours passed before they came to a complete stop and when they did the British soldiers came around to let them out. "Come now." said the taller. John and William stepped out of the carriage and followed the men. The sun was setting behind the gray clouds; John and William had spent nearly the whole day in the back of the carriage. The Red-Coats led them to an old sugar house which they were using as a prison. Outside of the building was a pile of bodies waiting to be picked up by a dead cart and inside the dimly lit building were about forty to fifty men cramped into the small space. William looked to John with a sense of uncertainty as they were shoved in with the rest of the men.

"What do you suppose is going to happen to us?" John asked. William shrugged, "I'm not sure, mate." he looked around the crowded room. Many of the men in room appeared to be sick and malnourished.

"We'll be back for you in the morning for your trial." said the shorter of the two soldiers. "You best get your rest, I reckon it'll be the last decent one you get." The soldiers backed out of the building and locked the door, leaving them amongst the men in the room.

***

It had been several days since William had been taken by the British and Thomas hadn't hesitated to get to the bottom of his son's ill-judged fate. He had gone to the camp the soldiers were talking to and demanded to know what had happened. A man by the name of Jonathan Yeager had told him how two rebel soldiers had gone and tarred one of the British soldiers out by the barn, and that John and William were the only two that hadn't been at camp that night. Thomas protested that his son was with him at their home but Jonathan told him there was nothing he could do.

"I'm sure your son is innocent, sir, but there is nothing to be done about his condition. He wasn't at the camp and witnesses say it was him who had done it." Jonathan said.

"I'm telling you he was at home the whole night! I know, I was there. This is a big mistake." Thomas protested. Jonathan shook his head, "Sir, I understand that you say your son was at home but he was supposed to be here at the camp. With him being anywhere other than where he was supposed to be there is nothing I can do."

A few days later, a letter arrived at the Danbury home addressed to the parents of one William Danbury. Sarah had been the one to collect the mail on this day and brought it to her mother who was horrified of its contents.

"Thomas! Oh, it's just too horrible." she cried handing him the letter. Thomas hated to see his beloved wife so distressed and quickly read the letter. It informed them of the fate of their son and his act of treason.

"This can't be." Thomas proclaimed, reading the letter. "He is innocent. Surely they wouldn't sentence him to death without proof he'd done it." Thomas said. Anne whipped her face with her apron and looked at her husband, "They say there are witnesses, Thomas, witnesses. They want someone to attend the hanging to collect his body." Thomas looked down at the letter with the neat copper stone lettering. He tried his best to comfort his wife, "Shhh, Anne, it'll be okay. I'll go. There's nothing we can do, if we dare protest they will hang us just as well. Try to keep calm...for Sarah's sake." Thomas turned to leave the room, blinking back the frustrated tears from his eyes. How one could think William would murder someone was beyond him. That wasn't the son he raised, his son would never do such a thing.

The hanging was scheduled for the twenty-eighth of January and Thomas left the day before for the final meeting with his son. William and John were now being held in lower Manhattan and it was a long journey to reach them. When he arrived, Thomas barely recognized his son. He was pale and his sand hair was covered in dust, his eyes didn't have their usual green color and instead appeared to be a dark hazel.

"William." Thomas said calling to his son. William looked gingerly to his father, his eyes full of regret and sorrow.

"I'm sorry, Father." he said with a whimper, "I swear, I'm innocent, they wouldn't listen to me at the trial. The judge claimed there was a witness to the attack, aside from the other soldiers." he looked down at his hands.

"I know, Son, I know. I tried my best to get you out of trouble, I really did..." Thomas trailed off. "We haven't told Sarah." William looked to his father, "Don't tell her the truth." he said, "Tell her I died nobly, I don't want her to think I am a murder." Thomas nodded, "Don't worry, my boy. I will tell her the truth-- I will tell her you died for what you believed it, for doing the right thing." he wrapped his arms around his now fragile son and held him a long moment.

"Time to move on!" A booming voice belonging to a Red-Coat stormed from behind them, causing Thomas to jump in surprise. He pulled away from his son, "I'll always be proud of you." He said. William looked to his father as the soldier grabbed his arm to take him back inside, "You'll be there tomorrow, right?" Thomas nodded and the soldier began to pull him away, "Don't watch, Father. Don't watch me dangle from the claws of death. Promise me you won't." Thomas was being beckoned by another Soldier to be on his way, "I promise." he croaked, barely loud enough for his son to hear. "I won't." he repeated to himself.

The next day started early for Thomas as he prepared himself to witness the hanging of his only son. He walked slowly to the square where the hanging would be held, there was already a small group of people waiting. It seemed cruel, to ask the family to come gather their son's bodies. It seemed cruel to put someone on trial without a defense and the verdict already predetermined. After a while a small train of British soldiers walked up to the gallows, the convicted rebels trailing behind. Thomas saw William and locked eyes with him for the last time. As they began to read the list of crimes, potato sacks were placed over the heads of each of the victims. John was placed next to William and looked in the crowd for his parents, they weren't there.

After all of their faces were covered, nooses were placed tightly around their necks.

"These young men are being sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead, by the Crown for acts of Treason. Stepping forward: Adam Richfield, Nathan Hale, Frederic Newman, John Hayes, and William Danbury." The soldier stepped off the platform and the executioner moved over to the lever that pulled away the platform. Thomas looked away as he heard the wood creek and the platforms dropped. There were gasps from the crowd, a wail here and there as the people watched the men thrash from the ropes. Many of them were very light and it took longer for them to die and others were heavy and it took mere minutes. After about ten minutes most of the bodies had stopped moving and were cut from the ropes. The bodies hit the ground with a thud.

"He's still alive!" shrieked a woman as she walked over the pile of bodies and Thomas looked over just as the soldier pulled his musket from his back and shot the man who was gently thrashing about. Thomas shuddered as he walked over to collect the remains of his son. To his own horror there was a bullet wound in Williams’s chest and without warning tears began to stream down his face. An innocent life had been taking and nothing was gained from it but pain and a few broken hearts. Nineteen years of love and support had been ripped from him by the death's rope and now the results of that effort were evident.

Thomas returned home with his son's body and all of which weren't collected were buried in a pit. He and his wife held a quaint memorial and made sure to place flowers at his grave every month.

"I can't believe Will is gone..." Sarah said one night before she lay down to bed. Thomas put his arm around her shoulder and looked into her eyes, "He died very nobly." He said, "And he wouldn't want you feeling sad for him. He died bravely so we could keep fighting the war. He died so we could receive our freedom." he kissed his daughter's head and pulled the blanket up to keep her warm.

"Father?" Sarah asked as Thomas stood up with the candle to leave.

"Yes?"

"Do you think William is happy now?"

"I am sure he is happy, now he is free."


© Copyright 2017 RainbowEhko. All rights reserved.

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