A great shock. Finding these letters, in fact, two batches of letters and hoping they would lead to a secret fortune, to the recovery of a misdirected entailment that would restore me and my family to the grandeur, material and cultural, that we as a family had enjoyed from the very foundation of this country. Then I read the first batch of letters more carefully and felt nothing but shame. My Great, Great, how many generations back, Grandmother stealing from a servant girl. This was a line of the genealogical tree that I knew nothing of. It had been pruned generations ago in such a skillful way that there was not even the suggestion of a scar. Not even an abrasion. A botanical lacuna.
As a young child all I knew was that my ancestors had been involved in the Discovery (as we then and some still call it) of this great country. It all started in 1620 when my Great, Great, etc., Grandmother, because sea travel bored her, was going through her sailing trunks, predecessors to steamer trunks, to organize their content in such a way as to make it easier to furnish the new house at Plymouth Rock. Most of the disorderly packing was the fault of a servant girl we will hear a great deal more about as our story unfolds. My Great, Great, etc., Grandmother immediately noticed that her favorite silver creamer was missing. This object had been an integral part of afternoon tea since she was a little girl and she could not imagine an afternoon without it.
She had always had problems with light-fingered household servants. The most recent was a saucy maid by the name of Moll Flanders (the same name as her yet to be born relative whose memoires were famously discovered, slightly edited and published by Daniel Defoe and titled The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.
There are amazing resemblances between the lives of the two woman, relatives but separated by more than half a century. To understand one is to understand the other. Certainly reading The Fortunes and Misfortunes…will clarify many contentious issues in my life. However, as always, there are those who claim that one need not read the book since the title conveys in sufficient fullness the plot. This, of course, is equally true of Paul Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream. Like the men and women in The Pilgrim's Progress..., Defoe’s characters are placed in unusual circumstances; they struggle in their different ways, through circumstances generally similar to Job; they all become, to some extent, obsessive. The main defects of Moll Flanders and The Pilgrim's Progress, are shapelessness, an ever insistent moralizing, occasional gaucheries, and naiveté. All are amazing pieces of fiction. Defoe stuck to this earth. Bunyan fleeing the flesh. In the final analysis one’s preferences are a matter of taste. Mine ran to Defoe and earthly happenings.
In any event my illustrious ancestor was not about to make a bad impression as she embarked on a new life. Argue as he might her husband, my Great, Great, etc., Grandfather could not get her ashore. Once, he succeeded in getting her in a row boat on the pretext of seeing some magnificent New World fish but she overheard him whisper to the crew to slowly turn the boat toward shore. Had his plan worked this would have been the first familiar landing in the New World.
Instead this was the biggest mistake of his mistake ridden life.
In London his custom had been to sit at a desk on a chair larger than himself as if on a cushion of air, his feet barely brushing the floor, his white haired head nodding either in thought or sleep. He was a man capable of great inaction followed by a veritable furry of ill-conceived activity.
He had initially invested in small ships fishing for cod, halibut, etc. However these common fisheries, they were not for him. Rather the glamour of the Nantucket sleigh ride, the South Sea Islands, the romance of rubbing elbows with nautical Titans of the day. He used to dream of spending hours riding around the London docks in his couch-and-four drawn by the finest horses money could buy. And to be piped aboard, greeted by the Captain in his quarters and to break out a bottle of the Captain’s best; so much as a sip, this was the life for the once young lad from a forest in a landlocked country, having only recently seen the majesty of the rolling sea.
Being something of a skirt chaser he was aware of the employment of whale bone or baleen to stiffen corsets and to make the hooped frames on which skirts rustled and rode and more utilitarian uses , umbrella ribs, riding crops, buggy whips, and hat brims. And of course, the oil for illumination and lubricity for moving parts.
He knew the lingo, talking of tryworks, cutting stage and blanket pieces, a tun each. He read all the newspaper accounts of recently returned ships and their captains who, as in land-bound pursuits, ranged from superstars to abject failures. He knew intimately the important agents, the entrepreneurs who sold fractional ownership stakes in the vessels to other investors, and acted as managers preparing a vessel for its long voyage. Hiring officers and crew, provisioning the vessel for hunting and processing whales and sustenance for the crew. In contact with hundreds of vendors of tools, boats, sails, rigging, navigating instruments, food, gear, medical supplies, and trade goods. As compensation for their efforts, the agents would add a fee for their services to the cost of the outfits, typically 2.5 percent of total expenses.
Unfortunately, he listened to the rumors passed along by bootblacks, touts and con men in waterfront taverns. Blessed by this land bound wisdom, the returns on his investments were charitably called meager. His solution was to double up, to invest what remained of his money and to borrow an equal amount from the gullible. Little success there. Similarly his efforts to recoup his lost fortune in the grain futures markets were equally disastrous. He hoped to flee London to the New World, with his family, his wife, my Great, Great, etc., Grandmother, the employer of Moll Flanders, and assorted children. Thus he hoped to avoid Newgate, where the family’s light-fingered household servant was to involuntarily pass some time, about which we will learn much more later.
Keen observer of humanity and quick to see the moral darkness inherent in human nature, what little trust she had in her husband, my male ancestor, was ground to nothing between the wheels of justice and the meritorious demands of his creditors. She never trusted him again.
While my disgraced male forbearer’s usefulness was limited to going ashore for water and foraging for vegetables and low-hanging-fruit, his fear of ladders precluded him from the more succulent fruit out of arm’s reach. And she was fierce in her determination to not be cheated by him. He was made to justify the price of every apple and ear of corn. Slowly he shrunk into himself more and more. His dull eyes and enormous ears scared the crew. Slowly he realized that his wife was determined to return to London without setting foot on the new land and not return until she was satisfied that her entance would be duelly noted by the nobler residents of her new country. This., of course, meant with all her accoutrements, silver and lace and such. It also meant that he would be meet at the wharf in London by armed representatives of Newgate prison to be transported in chains to his new home.
Just before setting sail to return to London he was kidnapped by an itinerant group of French Jesuits to serve God as their cook and was last seen, lightly disguised, shopping in a market for peaches. When addressed by name he mumbled in a mixture of French patois and what his auditors took to be Indian talk. He shuffled off.
Or perhaps his wife’s fine hand was the cause of his disappearance. Or was this his work? But we are getting ahead of ourselves. This errant husband, now frontier cook, will re-appear in these pages at a later date.
The trip back to England in the Winter of 1621 was long, tedious and freezing cold, made longer than necessary by a nautical error on the part of the navigator to which we will return. My ancestor used the time to create an inventory of each trunk. As she moved from trunk to trunk her anger increased. She discovered that not one but two creamers were missing and that most of her cherished silver ware, plates, linens, etc. were not to be found. Then she realized that her erstwhile serving girl was plotting her way up the social ladder hoping to use this finery as her trousseau. This was something she would not tolerate.
This error might appear minor to the un-nautical, fractions of an inch on the large compass. It was accompanied by dense fog. The result seemed to be grave. It was necessary to revictualize. Unbeknowest to the seamen, they left what we call St Catherine’s Point on the port side. Way off course, luckily, they noticed human flotsam and jetsam, and heard sea gulls and terns, so they knew they were near land. The next morning, as the sun rose they saw what is now the Island of Guernsey and anchored in what is now St Peter Port. They were the first Europeans to set foot on this island.
Unbeknownst to the mariners this island was originally “found” by Taino Indians. From this island they “found” what is now the British Isles and what is now called Continental Europe. Amazingly using old tide charts, maps and ship logs it is now believed that the Taino ship filled with Indians must have passed, going in opposite directions, within 100 feet of Columbus’ fleet filled with explorers. This happened at the coordinates 43.059489, -39.342422. The exact date is a subject of great debate into which we will not enter since it has no bearing on the subject at hand. The amazing fact was that both parties were in the process of discovering (on the part of the Spanish) and finding (on the part of the Indians) each other and had the moon been full they would have discovered/found each other at exactly the same moment in the exact middle of the Atlantic.
The concepts of finder, finding, found, etc. may strike the reader as unusual. It was called a “finding” because the finders were not white. When whites discovered a place it was called a “discovery”. This is not the time to go into further details but it is worth noting that this distinction is accepted by serious historians.
Just as Robinson Crusoe was very cautious when he landed on his new island, the Taino Indians were also. What they discovered was an island whose climate was semi-tropical with an extended rainy season followed by hurricanes . This climate is unusual for an island at the southern end of the English Channel. However the reason is well understood by climatologist who know that small slivers of the Gulf Stream break off and force warms water into the area which contains this island that occupies our attention. Similarly cabbage palms are able to thrive in Ireland because of the same aquatic abnormality.
Having been found and inhabited by the aforementioned Taino Indians, the island needed to be discovered. This discovery, in fact a short landing, happened on October 12, 1492. The discoverer was a Spanish bucanero , In 1511, Diago Valázquez de Cuéllar established the first settlement. Those who lived there previously, the Taino, could not establish a settlement because they were deemed incapibable of establishing the settlement they lived in. The island’s history from 1511 to 1621 when my revered ancestor arrived there had been shrouded in secrecy. Formidable lady that she was she discovered the seconnd bundle of letters referred to at the beginning of this book. She found them in an antiquarian bookstore inside a copy of an old Tory newspaper. She put the letters into a bag which was stuffed into a trunk where they remained for some time. It is perhaps best that I tell you a little of what these documents revealed but first you must know that the monuments of this island commemerate its conquests by various public spirited European leaders. For example, traveling from the Kingdom of Gwent. Saint Sampson, later the abbot of Dol in Brittany, is credited with the introduction of Christianity and the art of crucifixion to Guernsey. In the glorious year of 933 Guernsey, formerly under the control of William 1, was annexed by the Duchy of Normandy. Guernsey was the last remnant of the medieval Duchy of Normandy. This is the history that every schoolboy knows and loves. Not a stone to commemorate the Tainos.
My ancestor was an accomplished linguist. While her knowledge of Romance languages, Sanskrit and various Northern European languages were only marginally helpful in untangling the sophisticated structure of Taino her knowledge of the work of the Early Grammarians starting with Panini and her famililiarity with the connection between Cratylus, Plato and Heraclitus enabled her to develope a working knowledge of Taino in a very short time. What she discovered was that the schoolboy history of Guernsey was ridiculous and that the Taino Indians had, in fact, controlled large parts of Europe, having finally been forced back onto the Island by a coalition organized by Luca Pacioli, the father of double-entry accounting, who was a Franciscan monk and associates of the Fugger family. They, the Tainos were quickly slaughtered.
The subsequent history of the island will now make sense to the reader as it did to her. As she translated the letters the island slowly revealed itself to be a penal colony. Further inquiry revealed that the penal system was granted through Royal Charter which had been awarded to the highest bidder.
This penal colony was in fact a black site, one of the earliest, if not the earliest. She needed to know what was going on here, how the managers of this penal system extracted the truth from their unfortunate victims. I will not describe the methods other than to say they included systematic sleep deprivation, being shackled and cuffed ,including head restraints, terrorized by dogs, subjected to extreme temperatures and simulated drowning. Of course what was most feared by the prisioners was the threat of rendition to one of the Adriatic islands run by the Inquisition.
Additionally she was able to determine that a significant number of detainee, were cleared for release. Many others were being held "without enough evidence" to prosecute, but are still " too dangerous to transfer." Only six people being held were facing formal charges.
She remembered an anonymous source reporting that a senior official of the organization that controlled the island had said "The prison island undermines our national security, and our nation will be more secure the day when that prison is finally and responsibly closed." And then she remembered reading about another high official who was reported to have said, “I’ve been on the record…saying that it should be closed…And I think that whenever we have…taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us on the backside…this island and other situations like that…They don’t go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick.”
Much of this was just hearsay. She was not allowed to speak directly to any of the prisoners. However, in the great prison tradition she was the recipient of small pieces of bark with messages scratched into their soft side. She read more about rendition, untrained guards and cover-ups when international organizations investigated.
Then she began to understood some of what the guards were talking about. Then she heard about a Rendition Group, made up of case officers, paramilitaries, analysts and what we now call psychologists. Their job was to figure out how to kidnap a target. They blindfold and cut the clothes off the captive, administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit the detainee in a diaper and jumpsuit for a trip of many day, perhaps by ship, by camel or by horse drawn cart to cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, -- referred to in classified documents as "a five star black sites." These countries, of course, had treaties of co-operation with the Inquisition.
She had learned enough to know that things were not as they should be. She was going to London as quickly as possible to talk with associates involved with the Privy Council.