Strattford House; near New Castle, northernmost of Pennsylvania’s 3 lower counties
Christina and Brandywine River Valley, late August 1774
Margret Scott started to hoist her petticoats, but decorum made her pause. She stood at the tree canopy marking the entrance to her family’s farm. Paying heed to the presence of the servants and field workers, she started at a brisk walk down the lane toward the main house. As it came into view, her speed increased. A moment later, mindful of her appearance, she resumed walking. Alternating between almost running and maintaining a lady-like pace, she finally reached the front porch. This was the most exciting news she’d heard in all of her fourteen years.
She burst through the front door, cringing when it slammed against the block of wood in the corner of the entryway. Mama would scold her for that one.
“Margret Scott!” Mama’s voice preceded her appearance from the kitchen into the main hallway. Elanna Hanssen Scott was a kind and generous woman, but she did not tolerate ill manners.
“Sorry, Mama.” Margret tucked her chin against her chest. She fought hard to catch her breath as she peered at Mama from under lowered lashes and offered an apologetic smile.
A grin tugged at Mama’s lips. “Child, what am I to do with you? You do try one’s patience.” Mama sighed. “Now, what is so important that you could not enter our house in a more subdued manner?”
Margret inhaled a sharp breath. “Oh, Mama! You will never believe it. You know that Papa and I were visiting at the Hanssen farm.” At Mama’s nod, Margret continued. “And I am quite excited!”
Mama wiped her hands on her apron and quirked one eyebrow. “And are you going to tell me or shall I have to wait until the news arrives from town?”
“There is a special meeting about delegates being sent from New Castle to Philadelphia. Grandfather spoke of a private meeting with the Assembly that is being held in secret.” Margret flung out her arms and spun in a circle then clasped her hands together just below her chin. “The mere idea is simply breathtaking!” She didn’t wait for a response. “They mentioned something about a congress and how every colony except Georgia is sending representatives. I do not know much more, but delegates from our very own Assembly have been invited. Oh, how I wish Papa or Uncle Edric was going. They could write to us of everything they see. Just imagine! Philadelphia. It is such a big city. They no doubt have the latest fashions and goods. What happens there is quite important. And men from right here in New Castle will be there with other delegates.”
“Margret, dear, will you take a moment to breathe? I fear you might expire from the long-winded account you have just given.”
Margret paused and stared. Had she really just rambled without pausing for air? It was a wonder she didn’t swoon. She started to calm, but the amusement on Mama’s face made Margret excited again. A grin graced her lips. “And I have yet to tell you the best part.”
“Pray, do tell me soon, my daughter, before you burst the linen in your stays.”
Margret grabbed hold of Mama’s flour-covered hands and squeezed. “Grandfather has persuaded Papa to allow me to accompany them into town, provided you come as well. Papa said a ship recently arrived in port, teaming with crates and barrels of all shapes and sizes. Can you imagine it? There will be so many people about, and the shops will no doubt be open to everyone. We can see the latest fashions and styles and perhaps even purchase a new bonnet.”
“A recent shipment of goods, you say?” Mama withdrew one hand from Margret’s clasp and reached up to touch her hair. “I suppose I should make myself a bit more presentable for a town visit to purchase a few necessities.” A twinkle entered her eye as she looked down at Margret. “We cannot have the family of Assembly members appearing less than fashionable, now can we?”
“Oh, Mama, you can be quite silly sometimes.”
“No more so than you, my dear.” Mama traced her finger down Margret’s face and tapped her on the nose. “Now, off with you. I am certain the men will not be far behind, so you should not tarry any longer with me.”
Margret threw her arms around Mama, then stepped back and pressed her hands down the front of her petticoats to smooth out the wrinkles. She winked, assumed a proper stance and tamed her expression into one of polite indifference. “I promise to present myself in the most genteel of manners. My decorum will be impeccable.”
Mama chuckled. “At least until you once again get caught up in the excitement of the moment.”
Although she tried hard, Margret couldn’t tame her expression. The smile pulling at her mouth finally won out, and she turned toward the stairs. Mama shook her head and disappeared again in the direction of the kitchen.
“Nicholas, come help your grandfather, please.”
Papa’s voice sounded from the other side of the carriage where he extended a hand to Mama. A moment later, Margret’s younger brother, Nicholas, skidded around the side and assisted Papa in helping Grandfather Gustaf onto his seat. Grandmother Raelene said she wanted to stay home and work on her quilt, but Margret knew wagon rides weren’t exactly comfortable for her. It wasn’t easy seeing either of her grandparents struggle, but despite their age, they both still had a firm command of the running of the farm. And they stayed abreast of the political developments as well. Margret didn’t have as much interest as her parents and grandparents, but she tried to pay attention to what was important. The results of the Congress gathering in Philadelphia were sure to become the center of conversation for some time. Speculation had been high in recent months. Margret knew something would happen soon. She only prayed they’d be ready when it did.
“Will you be joining us, young one, or do you intend to stand and stare as the carriage leaves you behind?”
Margret started at Grandfather’s voice and looked up to see him smiling down at her. His expression showed he had guessed her thoughts, but it reassured her at the same time. Leave it to Grandfather to put on a strong face for everyone. Accepting Papa’s outstretched hand, Margret climbed into the carriage and took her seat. Grandfather placed an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. Margret snuggled against him, determined to enjoy the peaceful ride into town.
Before she knew it, they approached the outskirts of New Castle. The activity level increased tenfold. Wagons rumbled along the cobblestone, and horse hooves clopped as they pulled carriages or held lone riders. As Papa drove the carriage into the center of town, the raucous voices of the townspeople joined the symphony of sounds that represented town life.
Margret soaked up the palpable joy and enthusiasm shared by her fellow colonists at the latest arrival of goods. But another level of anticipation existed. Papa surreptitiously pointed out several gentlemen whose names Margret recognized from various conversations. Lace handkerchiefs held by the gloved hands of ladies waved in the air. Men raised their tri-corner hats high while others merely tipped them in acknowledgement of the honor bestowed upon the esteemed men. Their driver stopped the carriage to allow the throngs of people to part and allow them room to pass.
Nicholas leaned forward and tapped Margret’s knee as he jerked his head to the side.
“That is the mayor of Wilmington, John McKinley.”
Margret turned to see a well-dressed gentlemen approach the print shop a block ahead of them. He certainly looked like a man of some importance. And the way several townsfolk stepped aside to let him pass showed they felt the same way.
“Papa and Grandfather Gustaf invited him for supper one evening a few months back.” Nicholas’ voice interrupted her thoughts. “He is quite influential. I remember Papa talking about his service during the war with the French a few years ago. They were both Majors, even though Papa served with a British regiment while Mayor McKinley commanded the New Castle militia.” He looked at Papa—whose face reflected admiration that his son knew so much—then continued with pride. “Standing next to him are the three lawyers being sent as delegates, Thomas McKean, George Read and Caesar Rodney.”
Margret straightened in her seat and squinted as she peered at the three men. “Mama, is not Mr. McKean the man who assisted you when that journalist tried to deceive you?”
That was one of Margret’s favorite stories she’d asked Mama to tell her over and over again.
“Yes,” Mama replied with a smile at Papa.
Margaret’s breath caught in her throat. Had it not been for Mr. McKean, Mama might have married the journalist and not Papa. “I wish I could have been there to see it.” She placed one hand on her heart. “Can you imagine having a man come to your home to call only to have his devious plans revealed by a notable statesman and the Deputy Attorney General?”
Papa took Mama’s hand in his and bestowed a loving smile upon his wife as the wagon moved forward again. “I owe my life to Mr. McKean. But had he not succeeded, I would have found another way to secure your mother’s affection.”
Looking back and forth between her parents, Margret prayed that one day she would be as fortunate as they in her future marriage.
“Papa, why has this meeting been called in secret?”
Nicholas’ question drew everyone’s attention back to the matter at hand.
“We have grown weary of the legislature across the ocean dictating to us how and when we are able to export and import our goods.” Papa cleared his throat then lowered his voice as two British soldiers crossed the street from the sidewalk near them. “We have protested the taxes that Britain attempted to levy upon us for stamps to mail our letters, tea to serve in our homes and sugar to sweeten our meals. And we will continue to protest until they realize we deserve the right to make those decisions for ourselves.”
Grandfather Gustaf continued. “But despite everything, they have not listened. Instead, their presence has increased, and their attempts to control us have almost become unbearable.”
Papa nodded. “That is the reason for the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia. But our meeting is to give a proper send-off to the three delegates and discuss the topics that may be part of the gathering up north.”
Nicholas leaned forward. “And the reason for the secret meeting is to prevent any British from knowing what is happening?”
“Yes, this is why we must do all that we can to gather unnoticed.” Papa signaled the driver to halt the carriage. He turned to Mama and touched her cheek. “This is where we part, my dear. We shall leave you and Margret to the tasks you have come to accomplish, and meet you again two hours hence in front of the town hall.”
Mama gathered a burlap satchel in her hands and three hand-woven baskets as she shifted toward the carriage door. The driver opened it and extended a hand first to Mama, then to Margret. When they were both standing on the cobblestone street, Mama looked up at Papa. “We shall be waiting by the steps when your meeting concludes.”
The driver closed the door and resumed his seat. As he snapped the reins and set the carriage in motion once more, Margret watched Papa, Grandfather Gustaf and Nicholas continue around the back side of the buildings to the rear of the print shop. She prayed the meeting would go well.
“Margret, dear,” Mama said as she touched Margret’s shoulder, “Let us not tarry long. We have many things to do and only a small amount of time in which to do them.”
She would never have been allowed to come to town without Mama, but Margret wanted to walk around the center of town, see the shops, and look in the windows. If she stayed with Mama the entire time, she might not have that chance.
“Would it not help us more if we each took a few items on our own?”
Mama tilted her head and regarded Margret with a curious glance. She narrowed her eyes, as if trying to determine whether Margret had an ulterior motive. A moment later, her lips twitched. “You wish to have additional time so that you might see the new items which have arrived on the shipment. Am I correct?”
Margret started to protest, but Mama didn’t look upset. Only amused. So, Margret grinned and extended her hands in a helpless gesture. “It is why I pleaded with Papa to allow me to come.”
Mama tapped Margret on the nose. “Very well. You will need to go to the candle shop, the basket weaver’s and the apothecary’s.” She held out the three baskets and Margret took them. “I will be at the silversmith’s when you finish. Please come find me there.”
“Yes, Mama.” Margret dipped into a quick curtsey then skipped off in the direction of the basket weaver’s. If she saw to her tasks first, she would have more than enough time to visit the other shops.
A little over an hour later, she closed the door behind her after leaving the apothecary’s shop and walked down the five steps to the sidewalk. Margret shielded her eyes and glanced up at the sky. By the sun’s position, she guessed she had about forty minutes before the meeting at the print shop ended. She was about five blocks from the silversmith’s. When she reached an alleyway, she stopped. The other end came out near the north end of the town square. And that would take her right past the main street of shops. Perfect.
Margret walked about a quarter of the way down the alley, but stopped when saw two men standing close to one another, speaking in hushed tones. She couldn’t make out much of a description, but she could make out the red coat of a British soldier. It was obvious by the way one of them kept glancing over his shoulder that neither one of them wanted to get caught. As quietly as possible, she took several steps backward, praying she could escape undetected. She had almost made it when her foot kicked a tin can lying on the ground.
The two men stopped and looked in her direction.
Time seemed to stand still as she stared at the men, and they stared back. They looked at each other then again at her. She didn’t know what they were thinking, but if their choice for a meeting place was any indication, the fact that she saw them couldn’t be a good thing.
“I…I…” Margret swallowed against the lump in her throat, trying hard to slow the pounding of her heart. “Do excuse me. I did not mean to interrupt.” She took a shallow breath. “I shall just be on my way.”
One of the men said something to the other, and the second man left in the opposite direction. The one who spoke took a few steps toward her. Margret didn’t know whether to continue walking backward or turn and run. Either way, the man was sure to catch her. At least if she turned around, she had a better chance of avoiding him.
But as soon as she stepped out of the alley and into the street, she bumped into a man who was with a group of British soldiers. The sack in her hands fell to the ground, and a cloud of dust puffed out from underneath.
“Well, well, what have we here?” One of the men reached out and tipped up her face with his thumb and forefinger under her chin.
Margret attempted to regain her wits. Going from one frightening circumstance to another wasn’t exactly what she had in mind.
“And what would cause a delicate young lady such as yourself to be sneaking about in the alleyways of this town?” the same man asked.
“Perhaps she is returning from a meeting with a secret beau and she does not wish her mother or father to learn of her whereabouts,” another soldier suggested.
“Or she might be going to meet a beau with the same thought in mind.” A third soldier snickered, but Margret couldn’t see him.
The first still lightly held her chin with his fingers. She dared not move. Fear at what they might do helped her feet stay rooted to the ground. From the corner of her eye, she saw a man exit the alleyway. She caught a flash of his red coat and her heart beat double-time.
Could her situation get any worse?
The soldier in front of her turned, and a smirk formed on his lips. “It appears we were both right.” He looked at his two compatriots then back toward the alley. “Only it seems as if our little lady was meeting her beau in the alley.”
Margret felt, rather than saw, the other man approach. As she watched the soldier in front of her, his expression changed from one of smugness to one of concern. In a flash, the soldier dropped his arms and tucked his chin toward his chest as he took a step away from her.
“Does your commander not keep you busy enough during your visit to town that you must resort to tormenting a poor, innocent girl?”
“Our apologies, Lieutenant.” The leader of the threesome doffed his hat and took another step away from Margret. “We were not aware that the two of you were acquainted.”
“Whether we are or not is none of your concern. But your treatment of this young lady is a concern.”
Margret wanted more than anything to turn and look at the man who rescued her, but instead, she focused on her shoes. From the corner of her eye, she did catch a flash of red and knew it was the man from the alley.
“Now, I do believe you owe her an apology. And once that is done, I expect you to return to your duties.”
“I am humbly sorry, miss,” the first said.
“My sincerest apologies, miss,” the second added.
“Do forgive us,” said the third.
And without a backward glance, they scrambled off.
Margret bent to retrieve her sack but her heel caught on the edge of her skirt and she lost her balance. Arms flailing, she attempted to remain standing, but it was no use. As she joined her sack on the ground, an even larger cloud of dust exploded around her.
A warm, masculine laugh sounded from above her head, and she braved a glance to locate the source. Words failed her as she gazed up into the face of a young man in a British officer’s uniform. No wonder the other soldiers hastened to obey him so quickly. Heat rose to her cheeks at her embarrassing position, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of the handsome man standing over her. A few unruly chestnut strands escaped the confines of his pigtail to blow about his shoulders as he looked down at her.
The soldier chuckled and extended his hand. “Do allow me to assist you to your feet. Then, perhaps we can exchange introductions.”
Margret swallowed her pride and accepted his help. His strong grip lifted her easily, and he held on a moment longer than necessary before releasing her hand. She fought back the shiver that threatened to run up her back. Gathering her wits once more, she faced the soldier.
“I do appreciate you coming to my aid, sir, and preventing me from a most embarrassing situation.”
The soldier bowed, never taking his hazel eyes off of her. “It was my pleasure. Now, may I introduce myself?” He straightened and proceeded without waiting for an answer. “I am Samuel Lowe, recently arrived from the area of New York formerly run by the East India Trading Company.”
Margret dipped into curtsy, but the packages in her arms prevented her from using her fan to conceal her face. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Lowe. My name is Margret Scott.”
He regarded her for a moment. She wasn’t certain, but she thought she saw a brief flash of recognition in his eyes. Just as quickly, it disappeared. Instead, Samuel reached for her right hand and bowed over it, his self-assured smirk making her heartbeat race.
“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you.”
Samuel straightened, but never took his eyes off of young Margret Scott. If his sources were correct, she was the eldest daughter of Major Madison Scott and the granddaughter of Gustaf Hanssen. But the importance of her family didn’t stop there. She also had an uncle who held an esteemed position with the Assembly. Perhaps more than good fortune brought her to cross his path.
“Now,” he began, extending his elbow toward her as he reached for the sack she’d been carrying, “let us return you to whatever it is that brings you to town, and perhaps you can enlighten me as we walk with a little more about yourself.”
Margret hesitated, darting a glance around her as if looking for someone or something. Samuel took that moment to peer down the alley and saw that Thomas had returned. He signaled his friend to wait for him and received a nod in return before turning his attention again to Margret. Slowly, she reached her right hand out toward him, but didn’t quite touch him.
Samuel tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and gave it a light pat. “By my troth, I promise that no harm shall come to you.”
That seemed to reassure her, but she didn’t offer any verbal response. That left it up to him to carry the conversation.
“So, how did you come to be walking about town without a companion?”
He felt her stiffen for a second, then relax. “I am not alone, Mr. Lowe. I have come to town with my mother and several other members of my family to…” She stopped and appeared to consider her words before continuing, “…to purchase some much-needed supplies.”
Samuel wasn’t certain, but she seemed to be withholding specific details. If his assumptions were correction, though, her vague response made sense. He knew of the secret meeting at the back of the print shop, but he couldn’t tell her about it without giving away his true identity.
“Ah. And are you to rendezvous with your mother or someone else in your family at any specific location?” Samuel tipped his hat at a passerby, receiving nothing but a look of disdain in reply. He couldn’t tell if his uniform elicited that response or the fact that he escorted a girl several years his junior. Either way, there was no respect offered from that gentleman.
“Yes.” Margret’s voice brought his focus back to her. “I am to meet Mama at the silversmith’s when I complete my purchases.”
“Then, to the silversmith’s we shall go.”
He started to cross the street, when she paused. The pressure against his arm from her hand stopped him as well.
“Mr. Lowe, would it not be faster if we were to take Second Street?” Her arm crossed in front of them both as she pointed to their right.
“Yes, of course.” He recovered his intentional blunder and turned them down the adjoining street. “I have not spent a considerable amount of time here, so certain shortcuts are unfamiliar to me. You, no doubt, are an expert at the layout of this town.”
“Yes, I journey north from our farm as often as possible. So much about life here excites me and begs me to take part. The people, the activity, the new fabrics Mrs. Thomason imports. It is far more interesting than life on our farm, although I do my best to see to my responsibilities there as well.”
Just as he had hoped, Margret’s curiosity turned the conversation away from him and offered him the opportunity to learn more about her.
“And is your farm located far from town?”
“No, but there is so much to do at home, that we do not often have the opportunity to come. Papa works at the shipyard in Wilmington, and Uncle Edric lives here in town. I visit when I am able, but it is not as often as I would like.”
If he had any doubts about her family, she had just given him reason to toss them all aside. “It might be best that you remain safely tucked away on your farm during times of unrest such as we have right now.”
Margret peered up at him with such an innocent expression that Samuel had to remind himself of her youth. Her widened light brown eyes and smooth complexion paired with the lappet cap that covered her honey-blonde braids pinned underneath showed a girl on the cusp of becoming a woman. Although she possessed a blossoming beauty that appealed to him, it wouldn’t be wise to encourage anything further at this point. The potential existed for more, but not yet. He had to gain her trust first.
“Unrest? Do you refer to the dissatisfaction of many colonists toward the British?” She gave him a once over and regarded his uniform with a mixture of apprehension and interest. “In truth, I do not know that it is safe for me to be seen in your company.”
Her guarded expression said far more than any words. And the way she paid close attention to each person they passed gave credence to her doubts. Samuel needed a way to convince her that he meant no harm. But what could he do?