1774: Insufferable


            “Father, I’m no good at this! Are you sure this is a better technique than the running stitch?” I huffed before bringing my thumb up to my lips, attempting to numb the dull pain. This was the seventh time I had pricked myself with my needle within two minutes. I tried to slump over in defeat, but my stay made it impossible.

            “Perhaps if you wore the thimble like I suggested earlier?” Father quipped.

            “But I’ve never needed the thimble before.”

            “This is new to you, Lettie, and learning takes time.” Gently setting down the fabric he had been sewing, he stood up from his seat and walked over to me. He adjusted his glasses then leaned over my shoulder to inspect my progress.

            There was a moment of silence, but it was soon broken when the shop’s door opened.

            “I’m sorry, Lettie, but I believe that is Mr. Hill, and as you know, he can be rather impatient.”

            Father left the small side room we had been working in, and I heard him greet Mr. Hill. I appreciated that Father let me stay in the shop when he had customers; it was a great pleasure of mine to listen to their conversations. News spread fast, and Father’s customers always had information.

            “Artemas, you’ve heard haven’t you? Parliament passed the Coercive Acts! What King George is demanding of usforcing, more like—  is absolutely intolerable. I’m sure you can understand why!”

            “Yes, I’m sure I can.”

            “The King wishes to ruin us! He plans to close the Port! And a great lot of good dumping all that tea into the harbor did us because now we all have the responsibility of paying for it!” (Act).

            “I don’t believe I can afford to pay for that much tea.”

            “Be serious now. I don’t see how any of us can afford it.”

            “Well, for the time being, Mr. Hill, shall we take your measurements?”

            I heard the gruff sound of agreement from Mr. Hill. Father always had a way with people. He could diffuse any situation, unlike me. Sometimes I admired the quality; I swear he knew every person in Boston.

            I focused again on the fabric clutched in my hand, trying once more to correctly perform the stitch. The needle poked through the material directly into my thumb. Aggravated, I tossed the sewing materials onto the table and set my chin in the palms of my hands. Things never seemed to go my way.


            “Good morning, Lettie, Mr. Taylor.”

            I turned my head in the direction of the voice and saw Ben, Father’s apprentice, stroll into the kitchen.


            My father chuckled at my curtness, “Good morning, Ben. We’ve just about finished preparing breakfast. After we eat, could you run to Mr. Smith’s store and pick up the set of pins I ordered?”

            “Of course, Mr. Taylor.”

            “And take Lettie with you. I’m sure she would love to go out.”

            “Yes, I’m positively beaming with anticipation at the thought.” With a sigh, I continued cooking.


            I stood outside the store, waiting for Ben to retrieve Father’s order. Boredom was quickly setting in, but then a crowd began to gather. People inside their homes and nearby shops seemed to notice the commotion; heads popped up behind every window. Anger and panic spread throughout the crowd, yet one man in particular appeared to be the root of the problem.

            “Those Bloody Backs will get away with anything now! They’ve a charge for thievery? Accused of rape? Murder? They’ll just be sent back to England to be tried and pardoned by the King himself! Never mind justice. Soon every British soldier will have hands as red as their coats, but hold a reputation as clean as you’ve ever seen!” The growing crowd roared in agreement, shouting other obscenities and insults. “And what’s more, we haven’t any say in the matter! They’ve ‘restricted the number of town meetings’, and we’ve lost the liberty to elect our own officials. Boston is left to the hands of General Gage and the Crown!” (Massachusetts).

            I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see Ben frowning. Soldiers were beginning to take notice of the crowd.

            “Come on, your father is waiting.”


            “Father you mustn’t let them!” I tugged on the sleeve of his linen shirt.

            “I’m afraid I haven’t the authority to stop them.”

            “Why can’t he stay in a barn, or a stable?”

            “Lettie, there is a shortage of housing. According to the General, even the old barns are bordering overcrowded. We have no choice but to accommodate him.”

            I felt my heart racing, “How are we supposed to live?”

            “The same as we have been.”

            My father attempted to reassure me, but dread gnawed at my chest. Nothingnothing— would be the same.


            “I presume you’re the soldier that will be staying with us?” Father said to the man in the middle of our common room. The red coat of his uniform glared at me almost as intensely as I glared at it, and its brass buttons flashed threateningly. This man hadn’t even been in my home for a minute, but I knew I would do anything to get him out.

            “Yes, that’s right.”

            I stared at him with disdain; he glanced at me from the corner of his eye. When he gave me a small nod, I quickly looked away.

            Father cleared his throat, “Very well. May I ask your name?”

            “James Hale.” The man adjusted his grip on his Brown Bess. I couldn’t help but hope that he had poor aim, for my sake.


            Ben played the last card and after a minute or so, finally determined the score.

             That’s eleven points to me. I win again, Lettie,” he smirked and set his cards down next to the deck on the table.

            “Benjamin, I’m sick of this game.” I crossed my arms, glaring at the last card he played.

            “I think you’re just sick of losing,” chuckling, he took the cards I grumpily handed him and added them to the deck.

            “Please, I don’t always lose! I’ve won before, in case you’ve forgotten,” I scoffed.

            “Yes, but it’s been two years since.” He reminded me with clear amusement.

            “Oh, how would you know!”

            As he began to laugh, I noticed James enter the room. My scowl deepened, although Ben didn’t seem perturbed. He contained his laughter, cleared his throat, and offered James a kind smile. James nodded his head in response. He looked at me briefly, and I wasn’t sure whether I should refuse to meet his gaze, or glower.

            “How are you, James?” Ben asked, suddenly rather . . . tense? No, he was concerned; I couldn’t possibly understand why. Who could spare even a speck of kindness to a Redcoat?

            “I’m fine.” His voice was strained.

            He walked across the room and pulled out a chair from the table. Tenderly, he lowered himself down to the seat, and I almost didn’t catch the wince or beads of sweat dotting his forehead.

            Had he been injured? Perhaps he sprained an ankle. Or stubbed a toe. Better yet, it was a gaping wound, and he would be forced to spend his last days bleeding out on a hospital cot.

            Ben didn’t appear convinced that James was in good health.

            “I’ll dampen a cloth.” He stood and hurried from the room. Taken aback, I hopped up to follow.

            We ended up outside, where I had been tending to the laundry earlier. He inspected the drying cloths, and I stomped my foot to gain his attention. He looked at me impatiently.

            “What are you doing? He’s not bleeding, he’s fine!”

            “Did Mr. Taylor not tell you? I suppose he wouldn’t; it would have brought you an unsettling amount of joy.” He snatched a clean cloth and started back to where we left James.

            “Why do you insist on helping that…that… Bloody Back!”

            Ben snapped his head around and stared at me intensely. “Where did you hear that?”

            Outside Mr. Smith’s shop. I heard a man say it, and rightfully so.”

            “Oh? Tell me what it means then, if you’re so certain it was proper.”


            “What does it mean?”

            “. . .”

            He sighed, “You shouldn’t say things you don’t understand. Go and fetch some water, would you?” He turned and hastened back to James.

            I lingered near the linens, not wanting to aid the soldier that had commandeered my home. Finally though, I sought out a small pail then went to the kitchen for a pitcher of water. While I filled the pail, I thought about what Ben had said.

            Did “Bloody Back” not refer to the color of their uniforms? Was it not the same as calling James a Redcoat? Indignantly, I sauntered back to the room where we had been playing cards, my head down.

            When I reached the doorframe, I lifted my face and my throat tightened at the scene. Ben was gently dabbing James’s back, muttering apologies as he attempted to clean the bloody lacerations that marred his skin.

            “All this for what?” Ben asked, eyebrows knit together.

            “Striking a comrade.” (British).

            “You hit another soldier? What, pray tell, led you to do that?”

            “He was insufferable.”

            Ben stifled a laugh. The cloth he was holding was stained red, and I assumed he would need to rinse it soon. Silently, I stepped into the room; my presence was noticed immediately.

            “Oh good. Bring that over here please, Lettie.” I cautiously walked over to Ben’s side— I didn’t want the water to spill— and offered him the pail. He took the thin handle and set the bucket beside him. The cloth in his hand was submerged, blood seeping off the threads into the water, leaving the material a light pink color. I watched, disgust settling in my stomach.

            A few minutes later Ben set down the cloth, informing James that he would get something to wrap his injuries with. I quietly trailed him out of the room. He didn’t even bother to look at me before speaking.

            That is why they’ve earned the name ‘Bloody Back’.”


            I wished Ben would refrain from submitting to stupidity. A British soldierobviously drunk— had begun to entertain himself by harassing Ben, yet there was no caution in Ben’s proceedings. He simply caused a growing vexation in the soldier.

            “What then, boy? Are you going to go join those. . . what do you call them? Minutemen?” the Redcoat spat, “Think you can drive us back to England? Well, better not bother with that, else I’ll make sure there’s a bullet between your eyes. King George has no pity for you, nor do I.”

            “King George is mad. I’ve no need for his pity, or yours.” Ben shot the man a glare full of revulsion.

            The soldier’s face turned red, and I barely had time to shout a warning before there was a gun in the older man’s hand. Not a second later, a sharp bang sounded out and a small cloud of smoke drifted into the air. I watched, horrified, as Ben fell to the ground, gripping his leg. Blood trickled out between his fingers, and his jaw tensed.

            Another shot rang out. I waited for more blood to blossom on Ben’s clothes; no red appeared. I spun around to look at where the soldier had been standing, but to my surprise he was lying on the ground, unmoving. British soldiers rushed to where we were, shouting and holding their guns at the ready.

            “James?” Ben ground out.

            . . . James. . ?

            I couldn’t even make a sound as I was roughly pushed aside by two Redcoats. Stumbling to the ground, I saw James lower his musket before it was ripped from his hands. The two men violently grabbed his arms, but he hardly put up a fight. My mouth went dry as his eyes caught mine. Solemnly, he nodded at me; and for once, I weakly nodded back.



Works Cited

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