Fit for Freedom (Prologue)
This serial novel is a sequel to one I published in 2018. You can purchase that book, Defying Conventions, from Amazon. Or click on the button below to read it on Substack.
Fort Lernoult, Province of Upper Canada
Thomas Sherwood shrugged on his overcoat before making the short walk from his sleeping quarters to the small, drafty office where he conducted the bulk of his official business. When he was a young officer he imagined much more refined accommodations for himself, should he ever reach the rank of Major General. Now that he had finally achieved that coveted status, the reality was somewhat less appealing than the dream. Still, for a frontier outpost like this fort—one that they were officially supposed to have abandoned long before now—he could have faced much worse.
Reaching the small building that served as his headquarters, he was greeted by a smart salute from the sentry, reminding him of the recent decision to move the changing of the guard up to just an hour before he began his day. Despite several inches of snow on the ground, the young lad looked as fresh as a newly-pressed shirt.
“Good morning, young man.”
“Good morning, sir,” came the stiff reply. “I’m to tell you that a courier came in just before reveille. He’s been waiting in the anteroom with an urgent message.” The young man held the door open as the General shuffled in and stamped his boots to loosen as much of the mud and snow as possible.
The courier was seated near the fire, warming his hands as if he had come out of the blustery December morning only moments before. He had yet to remove the leather satchel in which, no doubt, the urgent dispatches he bore remained.
“Shall we have them, then?” the General said abruptly, jolting the courier out of his trance-like state.
“Yes, of course, General. Shall I bring them into your office?”
The General motioned toward the smaller room with a nod. Seating himself behind the spartan desk that was still covered with the charts from the previous day’s planning, he took notice of the fact that the temperature had dropped precipitously between the rooms. He had given instructions for the door to the inner room to be opened as soon as the fire was prepared so it would warm both rooms by the time he was there. But he would see to that later.
Removing the satchel from around his neck, the courier set it on the desk and pulled out a sealed envelope.
The General recognized the seal immediately: this was correspondence from his man working with the Indians in the southern reaches of what the colonials were now calling the Northwest Territory. He sat down and read the entire letter without pausing.
“That will be all,” he told the courier. As the courier turned to leave, however, he changed his mind. “Rather, that will be all for now. I shall have a dispatch for you to take to the Lieutenant-Governor before the midday meal. Be sure your horse is watered, fed, and ready to leave.”
The General rolled up a couple of charts to make a space on the desk and pulled a piece of clean parchment from a stack. It took him a moment to locate his inkwell in the clutter, but having found it after a brief search, he began to write.
To His Excellency, the Hon. John Simcoe, Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada,
It is my privilege to report to Your Excellency that I have received correspondence from the agent that I have tasked with observing the activities of the Miami, Shawnee, and other Indian tribes of the areas around the Ohio River valley and other parts of the territory presently denominated as the “Northwest Territory.”
Having been harassed by Indian raids over the past several years, the congress of the American confederation of states have lately taken it upon themselves to respond with significant military force by sending one General Harmar to give battle. He has done so, but has been defeated by a force of Indians led by the chieftain Little Turtle, who you will remember from previous reports. Harmar and his American legion were not merely defeated, however, but entirely routed and humiliated. Whether the defeat of the Americans has more to do with their own hubris or the ingenuity of the Indians I cannot at present say, although I believe it more likely to be the latter.
As expressed in our previous correspondence, I believe this Indian victory could significantly bolster the prospects of the proposed Indian barrier state between the former colonies and Canada. Given the other reports that have come in from the same agent, it is my conclusion that the only remaining impediment to the Indian tribes being able to fend off the Americans once and for all would be a supply of arms sufficient to achieve parity with the American forces operating in the area. I do not propose, naturally, that the resources of the Crown be used directly, but with a modicum of creativity I am sure our indirect aid will be no less effective. Having failed to put any power in the hands of meaningful central authority, the American response to future incursions by the Indians can only be just as delayed and disjointed as this most recent one proved to be. They may have their independence now, that is true, but whether their status as free states is one to which they can cling for long, without descending into disorder, remains to be seen. In either event, I remain, Sir,
Your most humble and obedient servant,
Maj. Gen. Thom. S. Sherwood
After giving the letter a final look, the General set his seal to it and laid it aside. He had written in such haste that he doubted the courier had had time to feed his horse, let alone himself. Time was of the essence, but a matter of an hour or two would be of little consequence; events had already been set in motion that even the swiftest reaction would not easily throw off course.
Little Turtle had dealt the Americans a blow, but the General reflected that their self-inflicted wounds stood to do just as much damage. It had been, in fact, less than a year since the area known as Kentucke had separated itself from the old colony of Virginia. The Americans on both sides of that divide seemed to think they had parted ways in peace; the General thought them naive or else utterly deluded, given their own recent history.
He lost himself in his musings for some time, but was brought back to the present by a gentle knocking on the anteroom door. The courier stood there, seeming at least somewhat refreshed, awaiting his instructions.
“This letter is to be delivered directly to the Lieutenant-Governor himself.”
Glancing out the window, the General could tell, through a break in the low, grey clouds, that it was not past midday. He had only himself and his excessive contemplation to blame for that, he knew.
“It must arrive as soon as possible. Are you ready to leave now?”
“Yes, General. I’ll be on my way presently.”
As the man turned to leave, the General offered a belated “Godspeed to you,” but by then he was already halfway across the fort’s modest yard. Whether that morning would one day be written of as a significant moment in British history the General could not say, but he had, as always, done his duty. The rest remained in the hands of Providence.