Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Maximum Massachusetts 17: Adrift

Boston, Massachusetts
14 June 1716

The flames of Boston lit up the night as Cotton Mather drifted across the Charles River. The length of wood he clung to had previously been part of the structure of the copper works on Bartons Point before they were destroyed by cannon fire. As such, it was proving wonderfully buoyant. The batteries Marlborough had placed atop Dorchester Heights provided a staccato visual counterpoint to the ruddy light of the burning buildings.

Mather would occasionally lift his head to check his progress across the Charles. At those times he could catch fugitive glimpses of other people trying to escape across the river from the burning city. To his knowledge, there had been no less than ten attempts to storm the barricades Marlborough had erected across Boston Neck, all of them unsuccessful.

From time to time the river carried the sound of musket shots from the direction of Charles Town, as Marlborough's troops fired on any Bostonians they saw trying to come ashore there. All of New England had shuddered last year when they heard stories of the savageries committed by the Hanoverian army in Scotland after the Jacobite rising. Their fears that Marlborough would deal equally sternly with the next set of rebels he encountered were proving prophetic.

An eddy in the current was taking Mather in the direction of Willis Creek. The sound of musket fire had faded with distance. Another brief look around had revealed that Mather was alone. Either the Bostonians had given up trying to flee across the river, or he was the only one the current had taken in this direction. The light of the burning town was also fading with distance, though it was still enough to enable him to make out Lynes Point off on the right.

Mather's thoughts drifted as aimlessly as his transport. He regretted that their prayers for the health of Queen Anne had gone unanswered. Her sin of gluttony had at last found its final punishment, and the British throne had gone to her distant cousin of Hanover. The new king had come to England with Marlborough in his retinue, and when the French had landed three regiments to aid the Jacobite rising in Scotland, the Duke had shown that age had not dimmed his skill at warfare. The Battle of Stockport had left the Jacobite army in tatters, and the Stuart Pretender himself a prisoner. Marlborough had followed the defeated army back to Scotland and left a trail of devastation there, while the Pretender himself had eventually shared his grandfather's fate.

Now the Scourge of Scotland was in Massachusetts, his troops arrayed in a ring around Boston, his warships battering the city from offshore. Boston's own guns had been knocked out one by one, and a steady fusillade had started fires in two dozen different places, until the whole town was a single vast inferno. This, Mather had finally realized, had been Marlborough's plan all along: to utterly destroy Boston, leave it a burned out ruin, as a warning and a lesson to all who dared to rebel against the British Crown.

It was with a feeling of surprise that Mather felt his feet, almost numb with cold, touch solid ground beneath him. Retaining his grip upon the timber, for he feared that he would be unable to remain above water without it, Mather walked slowly up the slope of the submerged riverbank, until he was crawling on his hands and knees up the last few feet to dry land.

Moving as quietly as he could, Mather continued to crawl up the bank away from the Charles. He was, he guessed, somewhere between the mouth of Willis Creek and the mill pond. He was hidden from sight by a low cover of underbrush. As his body grew accustomed once more to movement on dry land, Mather forced himself to his feet and began walking furtively among the brambles. At the moment, the only plan he could formulate was to somehow make his way north to the Abenaki country. Unseen behind him, the city of Boston continued to burn.

(Proceed to part 18 - Full Circle)

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