The old man sipped his coffee. “War is men’s affair. No good comes from telling women the truth about any of it.” He gestured toward my knitting. “But since you ask, I must be blunt. Your efforts are for naught. What do you imagine one wagonload of clothes and blankets can do for so many?”
“I refuse to believe that. If everyone gave a few blankets . . .”
“Likely they would never reach the soldiers. Well-meant donations can be stolen and sold on the black market. The longer this revolution drags on, the more likely it is to fail for want of supplies. I only hope it happens sooner rather than later.”
“But you cannot wish to remain under Crown rule?”
“We’re no better off than we were. The state of Virginia taxes us now, which, if I remember, was considered the basest of insults when done by the Crown.”
“But that was different. The King taxed us without proper representation.”
“I suppose I can’t expect a woman to comprehend the pickle we’re in. Congress is paying for the war with a printing press instead of a mint. They pressure merchants and farmers to accept their worthless requisition certificates for food and supplies for the army. Even the vendors with patriotic leanings hesitate to accommodate them. Had the broker for my crops not negotiated better terms for his army contracts, I fear supplying the troops would bankrupt me. This new country is setting itself up to fail before it succeeds.”
I folded my arms on my chest, even as I reminded myself raising his ire would not help my cause. “But you must believe in more than money. What about liberty and independence? Two years ago, you fought alongside Benjamin in the Minutemen.”
“Yes, because Virginia’s economic and cultural prosperity depends on good relations with Great Britain. I fought to return things to the status quo.” He harrumphed. “Don’t be a goose, Anna. Money is so devalued now that all my wealth wouldn’t buy enough food to feed a regiment for a month. Have you considered what will happen if the war comes to this part of Virginia? At the very least, the soldiers on both sides will confiscate our food and supplies instead of paying for them. If it comes to that, I ask you, how will we live? All these twenty years since your father died, it’s been my responsibility to protect and sustain both his widow and children and my own family. Mark me—if we win independence, we’ll wish ourselves back. Now stop pestering me while I’m trying to eat.”
I was not bold enough to point out his shortcomings in his treatment of my family. Protect and sustain? Indeed. I fumed in silence as I went upstairs to wake the children. When Father died, Uncle wasted no time putting Joseph and Henry into apprenticeships, which made it impossible for Mother and me to run our farm on our own. He bound me out as a serving maid to one of his business associates when I was but ten years old.
Yet he took Mother and Jeremiah, our youngest brother, into his household with Aunt Jean and the girls, and when it became clear he would have no sons of his own, he named Jeremiah his heir. Jeremiah left to attend William and Mary when he was sixteen, and after he completed his studies, Uncle bought him a clerkship with a lawyer in Williamsburg. The difference in our upbringings and situations left a chasm between Jeremiah and Joseph, Henry, and me.
A hot flush of fighting blood rose within me and I clenched my fists as I stared down at my slumbering brood. Uncle had used my brothers and me as pawns. I vowed to keep the same from happening to my own children, knowing full well if I lost Benjamin and my brothers, I would be powerless to refuse any decision Uncle might make on my children’s behalf.
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