“A story, Grams!”
“Yeah, a ghost story!”
The old woman, smiled at her daughter’s three children. Three boys – in there early teens yet still filled with all the inquisitiveness, energy and liveliness of six month old puppies. They playfully tugged at the ties of her starched white
apron much as they did when they were toddlers...and forced Abigail Sammis to take a seat among them on the large porch swing of her daughter’s ranch house. Life is indeed spherical and she laughingly noticed that some things never change.
“Don’t you boys have some girlfriends to chase or horses to ride?”
“Nope! There’s a storm commin’, Grams…” replied Jaime, the fourteen year old and eldest of the trio.
They all chuckled in unison at her disbelief that they’d rather spend their last night of summer vacation here, on a porch with a withered old lady, rather than be with out with their friends ...getting into their normal mischief.
“We’re yours for the evenin’”, said Jace – the middle child, soulful, serious and handsome as the day was long, Abigail thought to herself.
“ …And we ain’t goin’ nowhere and neither are you; ‘till you tell us one of your stories,”
piped in Zach, the youngest at twelve, who promptly seated himself at her feet and there by blocking off all avenues of her escape from their lively madness.
She took a long tired breath of happy compliance as she gazed out over the serene lake in front of the property. The wind was picking up she noticed, as gray clouds began quietly drifting toward the center of the Texas sky’s canopy. It was just after supper- about 8:00 PM on a sultry August evening, the heat of the day still lingering as a reminder of its existence. One could see the occasional backlight of lightening against the encroaching billows as it made its presence known and the soft rumble of thunder from the distant summer storm.
“One from where you used to live.”
“Yeah… One about the Revolution”
“Very well, then … since you aren’t going to give a poor old lady any rest… all I can say is:
‘Gather 'round then, m'dearies…Gather ‘round.’”
The boys settled in closer. They loved their “Grams” and the stories she told, especially the ones about the town where she
grew up "back East". Huntington Town, New York: a place as far from the cares of Copper Canyon, Texas, pickup trucks, ranches, "boot-scootin'" and what these three teenagers knew as it could possibly be. A place far older than these United States, although the location was still the same. A place whose doleful past especially where this county's freedom was concerned was ingrained respectively within every nook and cranny from the lonely cry of the seagull to the wind which moaned through its hollows. A place of mystery and historical legend.
The porch glider moved gently back and forth, and Abigail closed her eyes for a moment and spirited herself back to the wrap around porch of the old house on Main Street, where she had lived since her birth. A simple clapboard house, which was situated on a hill between the Harbor and the Bay. Far away from the toasted corn dogs, long horn steer, hat-tippin' and "Howdy, Ma'ams" of the Stockyards in Forth Worth. A place rich with the history of the birth of a nation, a vicinity that held a darker side of the Revolutionary War: The sleepy historical town of Huntington, for it was here that a most unspeakable war crime took place. An offense against all that is natural and holy, a crime in which its participants both victim and perpetrator alike still cry out with agony and horror in the Olde Burying Ground, which still stands on Main Street to this very day. As she opened her sharp emerald eyes, in her mind, Abigail was seated in her grandfather's ole' rocking chair and began to rock slowly to and fro as the sun began to set over her beloved Huntington Harbor and the fog slowly rolled in off Huntington Bay.
“To begin this tale of uttermost darkness,” Abigail began, “I suppose it would be wise to mention, that during the summer of 1776 (July 22nd to be exact) the elders of this hard working farming and seafaring community read aloud the Declaration of Independence upon the Village Green to all the community who had gathered there for the occasion. A brave feat indeed, mind you, as it was considered high treason against King George and punishable by public hanging. One month later, -- with the fervor and bravado of anticipated freedom against the tyranny of the Crown; the Huntington Liberty Flag first raised its mighty head during the week of August 22nd of that same year. But alas! The general revelry and good futures proposed for one and all who diligently toiled their labors in the rocky thankless turf or sought their whaling fortunes out past the murky riptides and shoals in the waters that were known as The Long Island Sound, were dashed for all who hungered for their liberty as the sure and swift defeat of the revolutionists came to pass during the tragic Battle of Long Island. The precious flag and all that it entailed was captured not ten 'eves later by the Hessian mercenaries."**
**(The term Hessians, here to mean a marauding mercenary group of Germans who fought for the British -- one of whom gained sure fame as a particular "baddie" up in a small town on the Mainland.... Mayhap you have heard of that gruesome tale as well? That town was known as Sleepy Hollow...but that's another story...)
“And thus began the terrible and often vicious occupation of the British between the years of 1776 and 1783 across that favored land. Truth be known, there were many a tale of intrigue and horror in the tiny hamlet known as Huntington Town from its inception in 1653 to present day, for there are witch burnings and ghostly legends a plenty whose spirits still harbor there, but for now we will settle on the legend of Lt. Col. Benjamin Thompson, The Queen's Rangers and the evil humiliations they inflicted upon the patriots of Huntington Town.
During the occupation it was commonplace for the British regiment to quarter in any home or building they could find. Keep in mind that when settlers came to the infant United States and her colonies, many came for relief from the religious persecution they suffered in England so far across the sea. The Presbyterian sect was one such faith. It seems the British officers took special delight in desecrating these churches which dotted the countryside of Long Island ... turning some into barracks to quarter their troops, others into storage for hay or arms and one actually into a riding school for the officers themselves.
Fine. These are the fortunes or shall I say misfortunes of war ... of victors and of captives. Huntington faired far worse in the transmutations of their Churches, Presbyterian or otherwise. In Huntington Town, The First Presbyterian Church protectively abided for more than a century, near Main Street on the hill within the iron gates of “The Olde Burying Ground”. It was predominantly known as “Olde First Church”, and was turned into an ammunitions depot and stable, its pulpit and pews burned for British soldiers' fuel.
Ebenezer Prime, The Pastor and a known patriot was driven from his parsonage at this Church, as it would be now used as officer's quarters. His vast Library (indeed, this was actually the first Huntington Lending Library) was used to start the soldiers' cooking fires and pages of the books and hymnals where pressed into service for the more base bodily functions. At seventy-seven and homeless, Parson Prime relied upon the dangerous kindness of the townspeople for his refuge and secretly ministered to them in their homes where he could until his death in 1779. He was buried secretly one night near the hill, which supported his beloved Church for so many years, in a falsely marked grave with no more than a simple slate tombstone, marking this true patriot's demise and guarding his resting place.
The brutalized and half-starved villagers of Huntington Town were subject to the complete and utter foraging by the occupying regiments as well as absolute billeting, with of course no compensations for their trouble. Yet, they would not yield. Though their oppression was severe, they never relented, never extinguished the light of the hope of freedom. Boys as young as twelve, men as old as eighty were pressed into the service of the King and still, they would not yield. Women fared far less in their subjugation being taken as harlots and camp followers with none to defend their honor. Whatever the "Kings Men" threw their way, the Townspeople of Huntington would not yield. The rebel movement went "underground" meeting where they could and providing assistance and cover for the patriot raiders from Connecticut. Through the seven years of the martial law it became apparent that though the British tried their best to break the backs and level the spirits of the patriots of Huntington ...they could not. In an effort of exasperation near the end, during the year 1782, they called upon one Col. Thompson to "bring Huntington Town to its knees". They could not have given it to a better man. This, I say, with the highest disregard and sarcasm, as Benjamin Thompson was thought of throughout the colonies to be "the devil himself".
Originally born a Bostonian, he had served (rather badly) in the Continental Army. When it was made clear to him by all who knew of him that he would never be promoted because of his grave perverseness (this according to General Washington, himself) He left for London and was granted a colonelship with The Queen's Rangers – The British, you see, were delighted to have him. He took up his new command in Huntington with an adamant glee and increased the pressures and dire humiliations upon the wretched townsfolk even though the British had realized by then, that the war was all but lost to them. So, he landed his troops of Dragoons in Huntington Harbor, marched them through the town, and made with demonic purpose towards The “Olde First Church”, which still managed to stand sentry upon on the hill within "The Olde Burying Ground" of Huntington Town, hopelessly guarding its members now laid to rest; some more than a century. As they tramped through this hallowed and blessed cemetery, Col Thompson decided to visit yet one more blow to the town and its living people, one magnificent injustice to trump all others. He indeed would bring Huntington Town to its knees by going through its long dead. And who better to do the dastardly work, then the patriots themselves? That day, he proclaimed an order: "On pain of most grievous torture and death" to which all man, woman and child would comply. He ordered a fort to be built upon that hill in the center of what should have remained an untouched and sacred place of eternal slumber.
And so it began ... The townspeople were bid to bring forth both axe and shovel to prepare their ancestral graveyard for its new "guardian". Disintegrating coffins of those dead from the century past were disinterred. Some were desecrated when the grisly task was not performed quickly enough for the belligerent eye of the ever watching ...ever-mocking Dragoons. Shrieks of misery and sometimes madness continued throughout its course as the miserable citizens of Huntington Town were forced to toil without normal respite both day and night until the completion of their task. From beginning to end the whole occurrence took no more than 15 days. The Church itself was completely dismantled, stripped bare of its timbers and with them the grisly fort was constructed in its place ... He named it Fort Golgotha, a sore testimony to his grossly inappropriate wit.
For the completion of this absolute misery and horrific monstrosity, he further ordered the headstones to be cut from the surrounding graves, and re-laid as flooring tiles in the new barracks and stables. But Thompson's reign of terror was not complete. He had two ultimately brilliant and wicked tortures still to visit upon the spiritually crippled townspeople. Col. Thompson forced the elders of Huntington Town upon pain of death to their families to give up the location of the final resting place of their beloved Pastor, Ebenezer Prime. He strode with marked pomposity throughout the sacred burying ground with a group of his henchmen desecrating and trampling though graves as he went father afoot. At last, the eternal resting place of Ebenezer Prime was located. Col. Thompson ordered that his tent be made ready at the head of the Reverend's grave. This way he said that could attain some great satisfaction from "treading upon the soul of the old rebel every time he went in or out of his tent.” But he was not done ...oh no, not he! He had saved the best for last, the final blow to bring Huntington Town to its knees. Col. Thompson smiled with his hollow soulless eyes and called for a few of the townspeople who were known patriots to cut the stones from their own families' recently departed members and install them as the flooring of a large oven within Fort Golgotha. When the deed was done, it became a crime, he decreed for anyone to bake bread in any oven save this one of horror. There was many a time when the women would retrieve the freshly baked loaves and cakes from this putridly hellish place and recoil, wailing in revulsion at the sight of the imprints of the names of Huntington's ancestors, her sons and daughters which were emblazoned upon the underside crusts of those breads.
Within a few months of raising of Fort Golgotha, Col Thompson and The Queen's Rangers departed in their tall ships for Britain, General Cornwallis conceded to England's loss and The United States of America emerged in its own sovereignty and began the process of healing its wounds, wrapping itself within the solace and comfort of the Peoples' Liberty. Huntington rejoiced as well. What took a fortnight of terror to accomplish... took only a week to decimate, for in Fort Golgotha’s place a new “Olde First Church” was rebuilt by the surviving men, women and even the children. It endures as a sentinel over Huntington's sleepers of eternity to this very day."
Abigail released a long sigh and looked deeply into the eyes of her grandchildren,
"They say that time heals all wounds... this may be true, but sometimes things have a way of pointed remembrance...
It is said that if one goes into the Olde Burying Ground just before dawn, while the wisps of fog from Huntington Bay still cling upon the hill, if one is very still, one can hear the screams near the place where the bread oven once stood. Some say that it is the wailing women of the town as they removed the freshly baked goods from that diabolical oven, only to find the names of their dear departed family members engraved upon the underside crusts of the bread they were forced to bake. Others say it is the spirits of those ancestors long dead who after rising up in search throughout the night looking for their displaced and missing headstones, only find in their abject misery that none exist. Still, others feel that they might be the restless specters of the Queen's Rangers come back to The Olde Burying Ground, condemned forever to walk the night without rest as they search for the desecrated coffins and violated corpses which have long since disintegrated back into the earth and now must answer for their gruesome deeds and stand as final sentry over them for all eternity.”
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