Sarah and Jason Thibadeau received a letter from the publishers of their story Thibadeau The Pirate. Opening it they read: Jason, we have just received a letter from a person by the name of Thibodeaux located in North Carolina. She has asked me to put you in contact with her. She claims to have information about an ancestor of hers that very possibly could be the same person as the first Jason Thibadeau of Vermont. According to this lady there are too many similarities between her ancestor and the Jason of your book to be just a coincidence. Her address follows. Miss Harriet Thibodeaux 123 River Road Charlotte, NC 28205 Tel 919-555-6201
Sarah and I were both curious about Jason's early years and just maybe this woman had some answers. Sarah called that evening. A woman with a pleasant voice answered. "Hello, this is Harriet Thibodeaux."
"Hello, this is Sarah Thibadeau of Vermont. I'm calling in reference to a letter you sent to the Sunshine Publishing House about the family Thibodeaux. Would you explain why you might think my husband's ancestor that we wrote about and the one that is the ancestor of yours might be one and the same?"
"I certainly will. I have the diary of the mother of the one we are talking about. Her name was Winifred Boylston, wife of John Boylston of Raleigh. She had three children, all boys. John Jr., Jason, the middle son and William, the youngest."
Sarah broke in. "Thibadeau. I was asking about Thibadeau."
"I know. This may take a few minutes to connect the dots. Bear with me. John Boylston owned a small plantation and kept slaves. Apparently his was an unhappy marriage with dissension between husband and wife always present. It had to do with the husband spending much time among the female Nigra slaves which Winifred felt was very demeaning. Especially as her husband was producing progeny by these same Nigras.
"According to this diary, things came to a head when the second child reached four years of age. John Jr. was short, fair and the same coloring and stature as his sire. Jason, on the other hand, was slim, dark and tall for his age. John Sr. never gave it a thought until some visitors from Winifred's home town came to call. One of visitors was Etienne Thibodeaux and he made much of little Jason. It was obvious that they shared some common blood when they were seen in close proximity. John Sr. recalled that Winifred had made yearly trips home on extended visits for the last several years.
"A major battle raged for over a week until a truce was put together. Each had to compromise. John Sr. agreed to raise Jason until he reached the age of ten years. In return Winifred agreed to never have contact with Thibodeaux again. When company came, Jason would be hidden from view, for Boylston feared humiliation.
"In many ways, it was a miserable life for little Jason. The Boylstons, father and son, made sure of that. The mother Winifred, produced another son, William. This child was born a year later after the compromise and conceived from the rape by her husband.
"The day she regained her feet from her confinement she faced her husband. 'If you ever touch me again you will die. Look around you. I brought my slave Mammy with me when I came to you. If I say I want you to get sick and die, that is what will happen. And know that if you try to sell her, I will have the law on you. I will be your wife in name only from this day on. I also would have you consider how you treat my son Jason. I will make the arrangements to have him leave as agreed when he reaches the age of ten. Just make sure nothing happens to him until then.'"
"You read this in Winifred's diary?"
"Yes. It gives an insight to daily life on our early plantations."
"How did you come by this diary if she was a Boylston and you are a Thibodeaux?"
"Winifred outlived her husband by some years. When this Jason was thirty years old she moved back to her home town away from her oldest son who had inherited the plantation. She did keep her promise to never see Etienne again, but was in constant contact through the years with him by post. She was buried in his family plot although not next to him as he had family of his own. She was a cousin of his wife, so she legitimately could lie there. She directed that her papers be given to the cousin or her niece after her death."
"Is there any way to tell if this Jason was the one who came to Vermont?"
"Not absolutely, but it is quite certain. He wrote his mother letters which I have, as well as the diary. Letters continued periodically to the family up until 1794 which seems to be the last time there was any information about him.
"Later on it was indicated that one Rachel Curtis may have had contact with someone from the north, but there is no record of it that I have in my possession. You will find that this Rachel Curtis played a large part in being an ancestor and I am descended from her through her son, Steven.
"Jason was a privateer, for he sent his mother the Lettre de Marque he sailed under sometime after the war was over. He did live a very exciting life, both at sea and on land, where he had the honor of meeting well-known personages. He met General Washington several times."
"Why did he drop out of sight when he did?"
"There was a scandal in 1793 that possibly contributed to his disappearance. He and his older brother never got along, going back to his childhood before he was driven from home. The scandal was over a woman that both men may have coveted. The woman was to be William's wife. It isn't quite clear what the relationships were.
"A duel was fought with Jason wounding his older brother. He spent quite some time in the sheriff's keep while the case against him was being decided. Dueling was illegal at that time although seldom enforced. John Jr. was a well-known plantation owner and that is why Jason was held. Shortly after he was released, he disappeared and was lost to friends and foes alike."
"The time line seems to be correct. He was thirty-five when he reached Vermont."
"Maybe not. This Jason Thibodeaux would have been nearly forty. That seems to be a discrepancy."
"If he is the one, maybe he lied about his age for some reason. What do you want to do with the information you have?"
"I thought maybe you would take what I have and make a fairly factually account of him. He is the only ancestor I have that I know of that was the least bit exciting. When you read the letters, you will see what I mean. I would be glad to have you peruse them."
"I would love to see them. Would it be possible for us to visit you?"
"Certainly my dear. Just think, both of you could possibly be relatives of mine. My family in and around this section of the country have mostly died out. Down through the years, the Thibodeauxs never amounted to much, all being in trade of one sort or another. That may be why I have clung to all of the papers concerning Jason Thibodeaux."
"Don't say that. There is nothing special about either Jason or myself. We met, found out we had common ancestors, fell in love and wrote a story about what drew us together. Jason will bring some pictures of his great-aunt Nellie. Who knows, there may be a similarity in your features. As soon as we can make arrangements to travel, I will let you know when to expect us. Our two-year-old son Marcus will be traveling with us. He is a Thibadeau to the last hair on his head."
"Oh, I'm so thrilled! I almost didn't write your publisher, thinking it would be futile to expect that they would forward my letter to you. Then I ascertained there was nothing to lose. I do have plenty of room for you to stay with me."
"We don't have your letter. The publisher just gave us your name and phone number. We don't really need the letter now, do we?"
"No. It was just a request for you to contact me if you were interested. Do call soon so I can meet you in person."
"Jason, we are going to North Carolina as soon as I can arrange travel plans. We have to meet this lady. We have often wondered about the original Jason Thibadeau. You are his namesake and we must find out if there is a connection."
"I suppose. What about my business? Do you expect me to drop everything and take off?"
"Yes. You are going even if I have to bribe you."
"And how would you bribe me?"
"The same way Ruth Baker bribed the original Jason Thibadeau when she wanted something."
"Okay, put Marcus in bed and make sure he is asleep."
My wife had flown several times but I had not, so was a little hesitant. It was almost a nonstop flight so there was only the complication of having to make one change. Marcus was excited and we bought a little model plane for him to play with while in the air. Landing at Raleigh-Durham, we took the shuttle into Raleigh to a hotel, only going into the lobby to call a taxi to take us to the address of Miss Harriet Thibodeaux.
I was startled when we met, for this lady could have been the sister of Aunt Nellie. She looked much as I remembered my aunt when I was twelve. Miss Harriet was a little more refined looking, had somewhat finer features, stood more upright and had beautiful coiffured white hair. But then she never was burdened by having murdered her husband as my aunt had done. This lady greeted us as if we were long lost relatives and we may be just that.
The first thing Miss Harriet did after finishing our greetings and we were relaxing, was to ask if she could take a picture of Marcus. Hooking her camera up to her computer, she printed this image out. She did something so it came out old-time looking. Opening up an album she placed this with images of three other children. "Look at these. Tell me they are not all of the same blood."
Sarah and I stared at the images as she continued, "This child is Steven and could be little Marcus' twin. The other two resemble him closely. They were a little older when their pictures were taken. All these children are from different generations. Jason, I wish I had asked you to bring a baby snap of your own to compare."
"No need for I looked exactly like those you have here."
I think this Miss Harriet was as strung up on the Thibodeauxs as Aunt Nellie had been. Conversation would drift away but soon would return to the Thibodeaux family. She had contact with three distant cousins that lived in the Louisiana area near New Orleans. She was somewhat disgusted with them for they didn't appear interested in family history at all and had kept no documents going back more than a generation or two.
Miss Harriet brought forth the diary that she treasured so. Winifred Boylston was evidently literate, for every word inscribed in the diary was legible. Her letters and sentences were even and well-formed and quite easy to read. Much different than Ruth Baker's struggle to record the life of Jason Thibadeau.
"I brought out only the first of three books that comprised her diary. This is the one that tells of her marriage to John Boylston. Boylston was not her choice for a husband, but that of her father's. She never forgave her father and he wasn't welcomed to come and visit. She did have one brother who she thought well of. She wrote much of life on the plantation up until Jason was four.
"I will tell you this though, there is very little information on these pages after that except about Jason. Even Etienne Thibodeaux was seldom mentioned. He was always referred to as 'My Love' after the big fight that she had when it was discovered that Boylston was not the sire of Jason. The most salient fact I wanted you to see is the birth date of Jason Thibodeaux." She thumbed through the diary. "Here it is; Jason Boylston, son, born April 19th, 1756.
"He would have been four when his parentage was disclosed in 1760 and he went to his biological father in 1766. Winifred made much note of this remarking she was sad to see her son leave her side, but that the agreement she made was a good decision. Her eldest son, two years older than Jason, had already followed his father at his early age to the quarters of the Nigras. He bedded a wench which he was wont to brag upon. She didn't want that for Jason."
I was thinking that life in Vermont and life in North Carolina ran parallel in some respects at that time. A whole lot of fornicating going on. Maybe not as much in the north, but for the reason only of not having an available partner as on a plantation. I guess in this instance, my sympathies would lie with the slaves who couldn't object to the attention of the one that owned them.
"How well do you know these diaries and the letters that you say you have?"
"Almost word for word. Would you like to see the Lettre de Marque? I have it here."
Miss Harriet went out of the room and soon returned with an elaborate document encased in a frame that we could tell was made by a conservator of valuable papers. This was issued by the Continental Congress of these United Colonies. It listed the countries that the bearer of this document could legitimately attack and seize ships and take prizes.
This really was a document that was a protection for the bearer, if caught, to prevent him from being hanged as a pirate. Other than that, it was a license to go about as a privateer, attacking whoever he wanted as long as the country at war with the issuer was on the list. There were other conditions spelled out as to the dissolution of the goods seized. Maritime law was the most universal adhered to form of governance and recognized by every country.
"Miss Harriet, tell us a little about yourself. It is fun talking about past history and those in it but we are here and we should talk about the present. You know much about Sarah and I from the book, but we know nothing about you."
"Not much to tell. I taught school, more of the arts than the three R's. I never married, but that isn't to say I haven't had my share of companions. I think the Thibodeaux blood runs deep in that respect. The most exciting happenings in my life usually centers around hurricanes that come down on us periodically. I did live in the center of Raleigh for a long time and have moved to this location just within the last three years.
"How long will you be staying? I ask for I would like to take you down to Wilmington where the Thibodeauxs were located and show you the actual homestead. I will point out the graves of Etienne and Winifred and Miz Liz as well. The Boylston plantation here in Raleigh was swallowed up a century ago by developments. I do know where it was located though."
"What was the crop the Boylstons produced--cotton?"
"No it was tobacco. The world clambered for it as people became increasingly addicted to it."
"We should have rented a car to drive you to these places. We only planned on being here three days."
"No need. I have a nice roomy car and know the area. I may be getting old, but it hasn't slowed me down one iota. We leave here and go right down Route I 40. I make the trip all the time. Wilmington, you know, was a great shipping port early in the 1700's. It has always played a part in shipping and ship building.
"The Thibodeauxs first settled in New Orleans, but some splintered off and came here to this port." Miss Harriet started laughing. "You notice I seem to always get back to mentioning the Thibodeauxs. That is why when I discovered your book I just had to contact your publisher."
"I'm so glad you did. You know if worst comes to worst, we could have some DNA testing done to prove we are related. I have a feeling though that your Jason Thibodeaux and my Jason Thibadeau are one and the same. We just have to make the connection."
"I alluded to Jason meeting and the knowing of great personages. That came about right here in Wilmington. When Jason was four, there was a shipping firm established here in Wilmington by a man that later signed the Declaration of Independence. His name was Joseph Hewes. He was what we would call today a shipping tycoon. He was much into politics and an elected official both here in the colony and in this new administration when it was established.
"He dealt with all things naval and placed his ships at the disposal of the Continental Forces. He was instrumental in procuring a great portion of the heavy armament such as the cannons and shot for General Washington to wage war with. He died young at age fifty after falling ill while in office. He was the first de facto Secretary of the Navy. Where it touched on this family, he was the one to give Jason Thibodeaux the Lettre de Marque at age nineteen. Jason earned it through some previous hair-raising exploits while at sea."
Harriet Thibodeaux was a most interesting person. The Thibodeaux family was not her only interest. She was proud of North Carolina and its history. Especially some of the famous men that had made the history. She recounted the exploits of numerous men, some even while still a colony of England.
I, in turn, bragged about those of Vermont. I spoke of my mother with affection and when age was discussed we decided that Harriet and Mom were of the same age. She gave forth that she would like to meet her. I, off the cuff, invited Miss Harriet to visit us in Vermont. She in turn pleaded with us to extend our visit as long as we were here. We did and it was ten days before we saw Vermont soil again.
We returned with all of the papers and journals that Harriet had in her possession. While we were with her, the conversation always turned to the family Thibodeaux and what the diaries contained as she knew them so well. By the time Vermont and its luscious Green Mountains came into view, we had a pretty good idea about the early life of Jason Thibodeaux.
1760 Jason Boylston, age 4
Author's note: I leave the present and pick up Jason Thibodeaux at an early age. I have given this child until he was ten the ability to speak as an adult in the interest of furthering the story. Actually he spoke much beyond his ken at that age. This is also written in the manner of centuries ago.
The man came to see Mama. He was much different than Papa. Papa was very angry and I didn't know why. Maybe it was because the man kissed Mama and Papa saw him. The man called me to him and squatted down and looked into my face. He looked very happy to see me and smiled up at Mama looking pleased. Papa got very angry and told the man to leave. This man was tall and had very dark hair and he laughed at Papa saying he would, but wanted to talk to Mama first.
Mama was closeted with the man while Papa walked up and down outside and swore great oaths. If I hadn't dodged Papa would have kicked me. Mama saw him do this when she was coming out the door with the man. I never saw Mama so mad. The Nigras came up from the quarters and watched Mama and Papa fight. The man stood and then said some words to Papa warning him against doing something to me and Mama.
The man got ready to leave. He came to me again and knelt down and said someday I would live in his house. He hugged me to him and kissed me on both cheeks. He then went to Mama and kissed her on the lips as she clung to him. He then mounted his horse and rode away. Papa went down to the Nigra quarters and got drunk. Johnny called me a l'il bastard the next day. I hate him!
Mama and Papa are fighting all the time. I go and stay by Mammy when this happens. Mammy belongs to Mama and sleeps with Big Obie. I feel safe with Big Obie. I go to the fields and he shows me how to be strong. Johnny can't be mean when I am beside him. Big Obie is Papa's best Nigra, so Papa doesn't say anything about me being with him.
Sometime after the man came, Big Obie was acting different one afternoon. Papa had given him some rum. Mammy was awful mad at Big Obie and stayed down in the quarters with him so Essie and Madie wouldn't get in the bed with him. Papa came to Mama's room that night and Mama was screaming at him. I wanted to help Mama but I didn't know what to do.
Mama is going to have a baby like Madie and Essie do. After Mama gets a big belly Mammy says I am going to have a brother or sister. When my brother came, he is small and I guess I like him and I call him Willie. Mama likes him too, but she doesn't like Papa at all. She locks her door every night. I start school this week. Mama has a man come in from the big town to teach us, Johnny and me. Mama says for me to study hard for someday I will need to know things. She didn't tell Johnny this, and spoke to only me.
I knew I was studying for something--Mama said to be bright with my figures. Mama was loved by the Nigras and they protected me as best they could. If Papa was drunk or feeling mean, I was shielded by them urging me to be someplace away from him. In other ways they helped me too. When it came time to learn to ride a pony, I was given every guidance by those same Nigras. As my ten-year birthday approached, Mama was more with me.
Sitting me down one evening, she proceeded to tell me that Master Boylston was not my father. "Your real father is a man of the sea. I have always loved him. Years ago your grandfather informed me he was dead and pressured me to take Boylston as a husband which I did to my regret. When I became pregnant and had nearly come to term with John Jr., Etienne Thibodeaux and I met by chance, he believing me dead and I believing the same of him. Later in subsequent meetings you were conceived. Etienne Thibodeaux visited that time you were four, but you were too young to go with him.
"You remember him don't you? Your life has changed much since that time."
"Yes Mama, I remember him. He kissed me on both cheeks."
"That is the French way. It is time for you to join him now that you are ten. My heart and my love go with you. You may tell him that I have taken a vow not to meet with him, but I still love him dearly. His representative will be here in the morning to escort you to the south and to the town of Wilmington. Son, even at ten years you are the image of your father.
"Now tonight, go down to the quarters and tell those that love you good-bye. Don't forget to kiss Mammy, for without her I could never have stood between you and the death that Boylston would have had for you. I will see you in the morning." Mama was crying as I left her room.
The drums were beating a sad and slow rhythm as I approached the quarters. Shy for once before all of these people so much different than me in so many ways. My heart ached for the freedom that they deserved but might never see. Then the rhythm speeded up and Essie came out from between two huts and danced around me as I stood in the middle of the little square. Madie, big with child, came and joined her. Soon all of the Nigras were dancing.
Mammy and Big Obie had pulled a cart wagon in to sit on. They motioned me to come sit between them. I watched as the rhythm picked up until there was a whirling mass of jumping and gyrating dark-skinned bodies giving homage to me that was leaving in the morning. The dancing went on for hours. During the third hour, Papa came staggering into the square screaming for everyone to go to their huts.
There was immediate silence. This was the man that had been my father. I thought he was for the first four years of my life and then he was the hated husband of my mother for the last six. Silently the Nigras closed in about their master. Looking into their eyes, he put his head down and slowly pushed his way out through the ring of bodies.
Soon tired and only of ten years, I crawled onto Mammy's massive lap and with her arms around me I fell asleep. As the sun was coming up, Mammy said as I looked around and found everyone gone, "Come little master, I'll make you breakfast. You say good-bye to your Mama and then the chaise will be here to take you away."
1766-1775 Jason Thibodeaux The learning years
Three days we were on the road. My driver was a free Nigra. When I asked a question of him he said Thibodeaux would tell me. Other than that he took care to see that I was fed and the two nights we traveled, he pulled into a plantation and I was taken to a small room where I was to sleep. I was fed in the kitchen by a mammy much like my own. Each time when we left, there was a new horse pulling the chaise and it was just as fast as the one we left behind.
It was well after dark when we arrived and the Nigra said that we were here. A good thing it was, for I was sore all over. The chaise was of one seat, two wheels and I had been bounced and buffeted for three days. A pleasant faced woman came and helped me down. "How did it go, Sam?"
"Fine Miz Liz. The young one never complained a bit. He took the trip almost as well as I did myself." He pulled away after telling the lady he would bring my things around in the morning.
I was alone and homesick which the lady must have been aware of. "Jason, for the time being you can call me Aunt. Thibodeaux has some plans for you which he will explain when he returns in a week or so. Right now he is at sea. Have you ever been to sea?"
"You will be very soon. Come, I'll show you where you will be sleeping. Do you want anything to eat?"
"No, I'm too sleepy."
"To bed with you then. You will be hungry in the morning. There will be my two girls breaking fast with you. They have been waiting anxiously for your arrival." I hardly remembered the walk from the front door to my room. My shoes came off and then my shirt and I didn't care if this fine lady saw me when my trousers came off, I was that tired.
Emmaline and Maybelle were the two girls. I was introduced and for the first time I was near a girl that wasn't colored. They had on beautiful dresses which were even prettier than what my Mama wore. My new aunt was pretty too. They all seemed to resemble each other, being very white of the skin and with long dark tresses. It was very straight, not like the kinky hair on the girls I had known. Emmaline was fourteen and Maybelle was twelve.
When my new aunt left the room, Maybelle said, "You are not a cousin you know and Mama isn't your aunt. You are Papa's bastard and that makes you some kind of brother. Did you know he is going to make you a Thibodeaux just like us? Mama couldn't have any more babies after she had me and that is why he made a baby with Mama's cousin and was glad when you were a boy to carry on his name."
I looked at Emmaline, who I thought was the prettiest. "Does your mama know about this?"
"Of course, she is the one that told us. She is happy for Papa too. We are all sad for cousin Winifred though. She can't ever see Papa again. It must be awful for you to leave your mother. Do you miss her?"
"Yes." As I said this a wave of loneliness came over me and tears came to my eyes. My aunt heard this last exchange and came and put her hand on my shoulder.
"Jason, don't mind them. They aren't being mean. They just wanted you to know how bad they would feel if I wasn't with them. They know how you feel. They feel a little bit of this every time their papa goes to sea. Even I feel like that. Come let's go write your Mama a letter and then you won't feel so lonely."
And he came! His presence filled the room--maybe the whole house even. He was quite loud and kissed his daughters and then kissed their mama long and hard. He turned to me and did just as I remembered. He kissed me first on one cheek and then the other. "Good, you made the trip fine. Missing your Mama some I expect. That is good too. You should never forget those that love you. I'm tired tonight. You and I will have a talk in the morning. I have some changes planned for you. I hope you will like them."
He turned away and taking his wife by the hand, led her from the room. Maybelle giggled. "Papa is going to make love to Mama. He always does when he first comes home."
In the morning he called me into a room where there were a few books and racks and racks of rolled up paper which he said were maps. "Jason, I don't know how much you know about your mother and myself. At one time I loved your mother and wanted to make her my wife. Events interfered and we were denied that pleasure. I married her cousin whom I now love very much. She has given me two beautiful daughters.
"For reasons I won't discuss, I coupled with your mother and you are the result of that union. That makes me your father. I would ask you if you would take my name. I have been informed that you have no particular affection for John Boylston. If you have objection, I will listen."
"No objection at all, sir."
"Good. I will petition the Royal Governor to have your name changed to mine. Now as to your instruction. Your mama says you are intelligent. Have you ever been on the water out of sight of land?"
"I have never been on any water."
"We will change that, and soon. To go long distances and fast and if the wind is right, water is the only way to travel. I am captain in the employ of a man that has a great number of ships. This next year you will be with me at all times here at home as well as on the water. You have much to learn. After that you will be shipping out with other captains and eventually earning your papers so that someday you can captain a ship of your own. Is this something you would do?"
"Good, that's settled. Start your education by listening to those around you. If I am in a meeting which I often am, no word will be spoken by you. Evenings I will question you on what you have seen and heard. You must learn to know people. Don't look just at their face, but at the thoughts that are hidden behind their words."
"To see what I mean by this, I will ask you, what do you think of my wife Elizabeth? You have been here two weeks so you must have some opinion. Speak freely."
I put my head down as I thought over his words--not the request he had just made, but back to what he had said before. Was he going to look beyond my face and see my own thoughts? I decided he would know both my face and my thoughts. My head came up and I looked directly at him. "Sir, your wife loves you above all else. She knows I am your son by another and that makes her sad that I am not of her."
Thibodeaux looked sharply at me. "You are young, boy. How do you know this?"
I was caught and might get others in trouble, but he would know. "Sir, I heard Maybelle and Emmaline talking. Maybelle talks all the time and about everything, especially about her mother and you."
This brought the most intense look directed at me. Held one long minute, it dissolved into a broad smile. "And what do you think about my daughters?"
"Sir, I could wish they would be my sisters."
"They are son. They certainly are."
Two days later I was aboard a ship for the first time. Different smells assailed me. Tar was the predominant one. It seemed to be used for everything. As we went down the Cape Fear waterway there were hundreds of boats and ships to be seen. As we went by one or passed a ship that was tied up, Thibodeaux would identify what type of ship it was. A sloop, barque, pinnace and many more. There were no frigates present so he couldn't show me one. I was told of the different sizes of these depending on what they were used for. The ones used for defense were named as often by the number of guns they carried. You could tell some by how many sails were spread and how these were positioned.
We returned by evening as there was a welcoming onshore wind that was effective in this inland waterway. I was tired and sleepy when we reached home. I didn't get to sleep immediately, for I was questioned about the things I had seen and things that had been explained to me.
Miz Liz came in and chided Thibodeaux about it. His rebuttal was that I was ten years old and many years too old to not know about the sea. Therefore he had to push me to learn these things in short order. This was said in front of me. "Jason, what is the difference between thirty-two pounds and twenty-four pounds and why do I need to know?"
"It is the weight of the shot that is fired from a ship's cannon and it gives you some idea how far away you will be safe if you know what size cannon a ship is armed with." The answer pleased him and I was soon allowed to go to my bed.
In the days, weeks and months I learned much. My name was officially changed and I was a Thibodeaux. I was years behind my sisters in many things but I was a Thibodeaux and looked up to by them. They taught me too. Manners at the table, and manners at the dances and how to address my betters. This was because as my father said, I would be in meetings where I was often with the ship owner and some times even in the chambers of the Colonial Assembly of North Carolina. Joseph Hewes was elected to that body the same year I became a Thibodeaux and he (Hewes) depended on my father to direct some of his business.
The year I turned twelve I made my first long voyage not under Thibodeaux. The captain's name was Collins and the destination was to Portsmouth in the colony of New Hampshire. I was the cabin boy. Three days out my hammock disappeared from the cabin corner. It was late and the captain said I was to bunk with him for the rest of the voyage. Understand the captain of a ship was everything in all things.
"Yes sir." I took off my sandals, my trousers and my shirt, leaving me in my linens. I took the dagger that was hanging down the back of my neck and brought it around to the front. I looked the captain in the eyes and said, "This is a present from the owner, Joseph Hewes. He said to always carry it to not only protect my own self, but those I sailed under."
"Humph! Turn down the lantern boy and sleep." I didn't sleep much that night and miraculously my hammock appeared in the corner next day for me to sleep in the rest of the voyage.
I had my Third Officer's papers when I was fifteen. Those came from studying hard, learning everything naval and obeying orders promptly. I could navigate by the stars if necessary and recognize the flags and the ships of different countries. I had just signed on as Third Mate of a barque that was bound for France. Four days out there was a disruption in the crew's quarters. One of the sailors reported for duty on deck and unbeknownst to the officer, quite drunk.
The order had been given to spread on more sail. The sailor, Tim by name, started up the lines with the rest of the other crew members. The sheets were unfurled and had to be tied off. Tim, out on the end of a spar, missed the sheet and it started to flap, knocking the next sailor off the spar. The sailor went into the sea, barely missing the deck.
Hell to pay! The shout went up and a boat was quickly lowered to retrieve the man overboard. The ship had to make a huge circle to give the rescue boat time to first reach the sailor and then come up to the ship. Two hours were lost before the ship resumed the journey. Tim was in the brig until he was to stand before the captain in the morning.
As Third Officer, it was I that opened the brig and it was I who led the sailor to stand before the captain, and it was I that read the charges of drunkenness and dereliction of duty. "Fifteen lashes well laid on, twenty-four hours in the brig to recover and present himself before the captain first watch on the morrow. Mr. Thibodeaux, carry out the sentence."
I knew I was being tested. I had never flogged a man before, but I had seen it done. Boylston had done it on occasion to his slaves. I was fifteen and looked to be a stripling. Tim grinned cockily at me when I stripped the cloth off his back and tied his hands on the other side of the mast he was face to. Tim was on his knees when the count reached ten and nearly unconscious when he took the last one. I signaled for him to be carried to the brig.
The captain had respect in his voice when he said, "Well done Mr. Thibodeaux. You may be excused the rest of your watch." There was respect in the crew's faces when I faced them as well. Tim had gotten what he deserved.
An hour later I was standing outside the brig. "Tim Baker, get up. I'm coming in to administer to your back. You have to promise you won't scream when I do. I'll fix you so you will hardly know you have been flogged." The rum I used to disinfect Tim's back hurt him like Satan, but he didn't whimper. The soothing salve I spread over the mangled flesh was painful, but soon gave him relief. "Tim, what do you know? I didn't use all of the rum on your back. Would you join me in disposing of the remainder?" I took the empty flask with me as I left Tim at ease face down on the bunk.
Morning found Tim before the captain ready to resume his duties. "Return to duty, then." A new Third Officer needs a friend in the crew. A hard way to earn one, but I had one.
When I reached the age of eighteen I had my First Officer's papers. I had taken to the sea. I liked shore life well enough, but it seemed life moved so slowly there. Emmaline was now married and Maybelle was a belle in the finest sense of the word. I loved spending time with each of them, but for only a short while. Maybelle always had a friend for me to squire when in port.
I kept a regular correspondence with my mother, Winifred, all of these years. She was so proud of me and was thrilled when I passed on to her information of Etienne Thibodeaux--and I passed on a lot as requested, for this was the man she had always loved.
She always asked after her cousin Elizabeth and my half-sisters and declared she was closer to them than her own sons, except me. She couldn't understand how she could birth a person like John Jr. and have no love for him at all. William, the child born when Boylston took her against her wishes, was small and weak. She had affection for him, but it was tempered by how he was conceived.
1775-1783 The war years
As 1775 drew near, the western part of the colony was increasingly unhappy with our Royal Governor, Joseph Martin. Knowing it would soon boil over and blood would be shed, most likely his, he escaped to a British frigate lying offshore. Thibodeaux was privy to his leaving through certain spies and I was with him as First Officer of the sloop we sailed. We followed at a distance to see where the retreating governor was heading. Waiting for nearly two hours, we saw the Britisher up sail and take the Royal Personage with it.
War was imminent. There was an untold number of acts that were leading us into it. Britain had ruled the seas and had the largest number of ships afloat in the world. The most egregious was the pressing of our sailors and of course the taxes. Not only that there were laws to keep us from selling our goods anywhere except to Britain itself. The people of the colonies were divided, some for England and some for independence. There were almost as many spies as there were politicians and there were a great number of each.