FRIDAY MORNING BEFORE SEVEN, Adam had just one small bundle, tied up with cord, that held all of his earthly possessions. It consisted of two shirts and two pairs of breeches, an extra pair of socks, a jacket, a thin blanket, a small pillow, and a drawstring pouch with a few coins inside.
“You sure you don’t want to walk downstairs with me, Mama?” he asked.
Mary shook her head quickly, her face tense. It looked to Adam like she was struggling to hold herself together.
Adam tucked his bundle under his arm and gave her a weak smile. “I guess this is it, then.”
She finally managed to speak. “Come here.” She grabbed him in a tight hug. “I love you, child. I always knew you’d leave home one day. I just never thought it would happen like this.”
Adam nodded. “I know.”
She reached up and kissed her son’s cheek, then stepped back and held his hands in her own. He stood a few inches taller than her and she was gazing up at him, her eyes full of sadness. Adam knew her world had always revolved around him, and now he was leaving. It all happened so suddenly, and it felt strange. Knowing he had somehow caused things to turn out like this, he felt pangs of guilt strike at his heart. By being forced to leave in this way, he was hurting the one person who had always cared for and protected him. He wouldn’t be around to look out for her anymore, to stop drunk tavern patrons from harassing her, or to put someone in their place if they disrespected her. Still, Adam was ready to go to Rogers’s Shipping Company. What other choice did he have? Standing here looking at his mother in the terrible state that he’d put her in was more than he could bear.
“You’ve grown so much. You’re a fine young man and I expect great things from you. I know you’ll do me proud.”
He nodded again.
Tears began to pool in her eyes and her voice trembled. “Just remember all I’ve taught you. Do good. Be respectful. Honesty always. And be brave.”
“I know, Mama,” he said. “And listen, don’t forget—I won’t be far. I’ll just be right down the road.”
“I reckon you can come see me there anytime, and hopefully Mr. Rogers will let me have time off to visit now and then, too.”
“Maybe so.” She gave him a weak smile, then urged him out the door.
Adam started to leave but turned back to give his mother one more hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. “I love you, Mama. I’m so sorry about this.”
* * *
Adam didn’t have to walk far to arrive at Emmanuel Rogers’s warehouse. It was a huge two-story structure about a mile from the tavern on the waterfront.
As he approached the wide-open cargo doors from the street side, he called out, “Hello!”
“Come on in!” yelled a voice from deep inside the building.
The morning light pouring in from the open bay doors on the waterfront made the dust in the air glisten and cast everything inside into shadowy silhouettes. Adam squinted, trying to make out the voice’s location in the shaded interior.
As he walked into the warehouse, he was hit by the warm fragrance of sawdust, tobacco, and rum. He saw rows of barrels and casks along the walls, stacked high in some places and lined up in a single row in others. Not too far inside the entrance, men were working on shaping barrel staves.
A swarthy, stubble-faced man stepped over to welcome him to the warehouse.
“I’m Boaz Brooks.” His voice was gravelly. “You Adam Fletcher?”
Adam nodded and extended his hand in greeting. “Yes, sir. That’s me.” He looked around. “Is Mr. Rogers here?”
“Yeah,” said Boaz. “I’ll call him down.”
The man bellowed in a loud voice to an upstairs office, “Hey! Emmaaanuel!”
“Coming! I’m coming!” a voice called back from an upstairs room beyond the balcony.
“The Fletcher boy is here. You coming down to see him?”
A sprightly old man finally appeared on the balcony and responded, “Oh, yes, yes, of course! Be right there.”
He made his way down the staircase, which connected the ground floor of the warehouse with the second-floor balcony, then excitedly scurried over and extended his hand to greet the boy.
“Welcome to the company, son. I’m glad you’re here.”
“Yes, sir,” said Adam. He shook the old man’s hand.
“Allow me to introduce you to everybody,” said Emmanuel. “You already met Boaz Brooks, of course.”
Adam nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Very good. Well, you should know he’s my right hand. He does a little bit of everything here.”
Boaz gave a half smile.
“And these men here are Elliot and Joe Salter—they’re cousins—and Martin Smith,” said Emmanuel, motioning to each of the other coopers in turn as Adam shook their hands.
“And then, of course, there’s also the crew of my sloop, the Carolina Gypsy. You’ll get to know them eventually, but as the Gypsy is leaving next Friday and will be gone for several months, those men aren’t here today. For the most part we’re really quite a cozy family here.”
Adam was underwhelmed by this quiet little warehouse, where he’d be stuck spending the next four years of his life. This was not how his apprenticeship was supposed to turn out, and this old man was not who he had wanted for a master.
If only I was at Richard Rasquelle’s company right now, he thought. I’ll bet things are hopping over there. I’m sure he has a bigger, more interesting crew than this dull-looking bunch.
Emmanuel started back towards the stairs and motioned for Adam and Boaz to follow. “I’ll make sure you get a tour of the rest of the place later, but right now I’d like you two to come upstairs with me.”
The three of them walked up the stairs. As they neared the top, Adam was taken by surprise. The sweet fragrance of dried tobacco and stacks of cedar shingles down on the shipping floor permeated the air. It was more noticeable here than it had been on the ground floor near the bay doors. And there was something about looking down on the shipping floor from above that made the place seem more impressive. The bird’s-eye view allowed Adam to get a glimpse of not only the large variety of shipping containers housed inside, but also the expansive space that appeared to be waiting for a pending shipment.
The building always looked so plain and boring from the outside. It also never seemed particularly busy—at least not compared to Richard Rasquelle’s company. Rasquelle was Emmanuel Rogers’s only competitor in town, as well as the man to whom Adam had hoped he would be bound in his apprenticeship. Nevertheless, now Adam was beginning to see that his new master’s company was much busier than he had realized.
“Come right on in here,” said Emmanuel, leading the way from the balcony through a door on the left.
They entered a little hallway, which then connected to a whole different section of the building. Emmanuel’s home was hidden within the second floor of the warehouse. The temperature was several degrees cooler in this part of the building than it was in the hallway or out on the balcony thanks to plenty of open windows, which allowed the ocean breeze to blow through from the north, south, and east.
Even more impressive to Adam than the surprising architecture was finding out there was actually a proper living area on the second floor rather than just the bare-bones servant’s loft he had expected. He felt like he’d wandered into a world bazaar rather than an upstairs apartment in a shipping warehouse. Everywhere he looked he saw objets d’art, housewares, and furniture from every corner of the globe.
They had entered the sitting room, which had a large Persian rug in the middle of the floor. There were exotic cut-velvet settees on either side of the rug, and two silk-covered chairs, probably French, beside end tables at the opposite ends. To the side of the sitting area was a square table with chess pieces in suspended play on the board. Adam guessed the set was from the Orient, based on the style of the figures. A long, ornately carved mahogany table with six equally ornate chairs was tucked away at the far side of the room next to what Adam guessed was the kitchen area. The wall hangings around the room were reflective of what appeared to be a lifetime of traveling the world.
Nothing was new. In fact, everything looked quite old, some things even ancient. It was all very well cared for, though, and quite a stunning collection.
Adam noticed that there were other rooms connected to this one with their doors open so that the breeze could blow through. He could only catch a brief glimpse of what was inside them. He was curious to continue the tour, but for now he’d have to wait.
“Let’s sit down, shall we?” said Emmanuel, motioning to the sitting area.
Adam and Boaz each took seats on the settees, while Emmanuel took his place in one of the velvet chairs.
“Now then,” began Mr. Rogers, “let us talk about your future here, young man.”
Adam nodded. “Yes, sir.”
He had trouble focusing on his future considering he felt like he was sitting in a museum.
“There’s one thing you should know. I don’t take on apprentices,” said Emmanuel. “In fact, I haven’t taken on an apprentice in over thirty years. The last time I took on a boy here, he came when he was about your age but he never left.”
Adam swallowed hard. He wondered what in the world that was supposed to mean.
“I have my reasons for why I don’t bring new people into this company,” said Emmanuel, “but for you, I am making an exception.”
“Do you mind if I ask you a question, sir?”
“Not at all. Ask away.”
“What happened to your last apprentice?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You said he never left.”
Adam was tense as he waited for an answer.
“What? Oh, good heavens!” Emmanuel chuckled. “The other apprentice? Nothing happened to him! He’s sitting right there!” Emmanuel pointed at Boaz, who popped up his hand and gave a quick nod.
Adam let out a big sigh of relief.
“Well, I suppose I did say he never left. I can understand how that might have caused you some alarm.” Emmanuel looked over at Boaz, who was trying not to laugh, then back to Adam. “I imagine you might’ve been wondering what you’d gotten yourself into here!”
The men laughed. Finally Adam smiled, too, and chuckled.
“Alright then,” said Adam, “I’m relieved to hear that’s what you meant.”
“Not to worry, not to worry. You’ll be fine here,” said Emmanuel. “As I was saying, I don’t bring on apprentices. I only bring into this company people I trust and, sadly, those are few in number.” The old man paused for a moment before he continued. “But when Mr. Robins informed me of your situation, I knew I had to give you a chance.”
Adam nodded to show he was listening but didn’t know what to say.
“I try to follow my instincts, young man. Do you?”
Adam thought for a moment. “I do, sir. At least I like to think so.”
“Good! That’s good.” Emmanuel nodded with determination. “Always do that.”
“I’m glad I brought you here,” said Emmanuel. His voice was sincere. “And I hope you will find that this is a good place for you to learn many things. I pray that by the time you reach the end of your apprenticeship, you will feel well prepared to earn a successful living, that you’ll be able to—” Emmanuel interrupted himself. “Well, you tell me. What is it you’d most like to do?”
“How do you mean, sir?” said Adam.
“I mean, are you most interested in learning the bookkeeping, assisting with the imports and exports? Do you like to work with your hands—maybe you would prefer learning the cooper’s trade? Or is it ship work that interests you? There are many different facets of this business, young man. It’s all down to what you think you might like best. We can start you there.”
“To be honest, sir, I’d be happy learning any of those things—all of them, actually.”
“How wonderful! That’s what I like to hear,” said Emmanuel. “You have a willing spirit. That’s a virtue.”
Adam smiled. “Thank you, sir.”
Emmanuel gave him a nod. “Now, on to the matter of your living situation.”
“Right,” said Adam. “Where will I stay?”
“You will live here,” said Emmanuel, using both hands to motion to the room they were in. “This apartment, if you will, has three bedrooms, a kitchen, and this room that we’re sitting in. I stay in the room on that side,” he said, pointing northward to the room that had been on the left of the sitting room when they first entered. “The kitchen is back that way, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed,” he said, turning and pointing behind him. “And beyond that are two other bedrooms. The first belongs to Boaz, and the other room has been empty for ages, except when we’ve had the occasional guest. Now it will be yours.”
Adam was struck by the thought. He had never had his own room at the tavern. He and his mother had always shared a one-room apartment, if you could even call it that.
Although he was beginning to feel a little less hopeless about spending the next four years as Emmanuel Rogers’s apprentice, he suddenly felt a horrible pang of homesickness, not knowing when he’d be free to return to the tavern or see his family. He knew it would be inappropriate to ask so soon, but he couldn’t wait for an answer.
“Mr. Rogers,” he said.
“I was wondering.” He paused, unsure of just how much he should say. “My mama—”
“Ah, yes! She lives and works there at Valentine Hodges’s tavern, doesn’t she?”
Adam nodded. “Yes, sir. And, well . . .”
“And you’re wondering when you’ll be able to see her. Am I right?” Emmanuel smiled warmly.
“Well, yes, sir. She’s taking my leaving real hard, and—”
Emmanuel raised his hand to stop the boy from continuing. “No need to say another word. You can check in on her every day if you’d like. As long as you get your work done, you’re free to go back to the tavern whenever you please, so long as you’re back here each night before eleven.”
Adam’s eyes grew wide. “Really? Thank you, sir.”
“Oh, certainly! I had a mother, too, once upon a time, so I understand. You’re a good son to want to ensure her well-being.”
A great sense of relief came over Adam.
Boaz, who had been sitting in silence throughout the conversation, said, “Boy, I think you’ll find you have a good situation here. If you work hard and do as you’re told, you can do well for yourself.”
Emmanuel nodded in agreement. “Indeed, and Boaz here will be your primary supervisor during this first stage of your apprenticeship. As I said, he does a little bit of everything, and he is my most trusted associate.” He looked over at Boaz and smiled. “He’s more like a son to me, really. And considering his past experience in your same shoes, I think you’ll find he might be someone who understands your circumstances.”
* * *
After ironing out all of the details of his apprenticeship with Emmanuel, Adam spent the rest of the day down on the warehouse floor with Boaz and the other coopers, getting acquainted with the tools of the cask-maker’s trade. Though everyone else finished up their work at the usual time, Boaz told Adam that the two of them would have to work a while longer to make up for the time they had spent up in the living quarters with Mr. Rogers.
“One thing you’ll learn working here,” said Boaz, “is that you have to take this job seriously. That doesn’t mean we never cut up and have fun, but it does mean that when work needs to be done, we do it. Every morning we set out a plan to accomplish certain tasks, and then we don’t leave until we’ve each done our lot.”
“I understand,” said Adam.
He worked alongside Boaz, learning to shape boards, which would soon become staves for casks that would hold turpentine and pitch.
“So how old were you when you were brought on here?” Adam asked.
“Oh, let’s see . . . I reckon I was about your age,” said Boaz. “Well, I might’ve been a couple years younger. How old did you say you were?”
“Seventeen. My birthday was in March.”
“Yep, I reckon I was a couple years younger, then. Fifteen—well, fourteen—but I turned fifteen during my first week here.” Boaz chuckled. “You know, Emmanuel actually gave me a party. I had never had a party before that day.”
The man’s deep voice was coarse with age, but it exhibited a hint of childlike exuberance when he recalled his earliest years in Emmanuel’s company.
“Were you an orphan?”
“No. No, I wasn’t,” said Boaz. He finished shaping a stave and picked up another plank and began examining it. “I lived with my mother, like you, but they took me away from her. Said she didn’t have the money to look after me anymore. My father died and left her with too many debts. He was terrible with money.”
He rejected the plank he’d chosen, then pulled another and examined it quickly before he began drawing it against the jointer.
“Anyway,” he continued, “they forced me into an apprenticeship so I wouldn’t be a burden on the town. I was just a boy—twelve years old. They first had me bound to this man who lived here in town—an old cooper—but he was just keeping me like a servant. Wasn’t teaching me anything.”
Adam was listening intently, so much so that Boaz motioned to the stave he had been shaping. He had been distracted and hollowed it out too much.
“Watch it, boy!” Boaz snapped. “Pay attention to what you’re doing. These planks ain’t free, you know.”
Adam grabbed another planed board and began to work on hollowing the inside as Boaz had shown him earlier. Meanwhile, Boaz continued his story.
“So anyway, Emmanuel set up his company here in town, and he had heard about how that old man—his name was Stafford—was keeping me, well, like a servant. My mother had told him. You see, he—I mean Emmanuel—and my father, they had been friends when they were young men. Anyway, she told him about it to see if he could help. Of course Emmanuel, he was glad to help the widow and son of his old friend, so he went to the magistrate and lodged a complaint on my behalf to see if he could take me on in his shop. And of course the court went along with it, since Stafford wasn’t teaching me the trade.”
“You’ve had quite a life, then,” said Adam.
Boaz chuckled. “You ain’t heard nothing yet, boy.”
“I’ll bet! So you say Mr. Rogers had just moved into town when he took you on here.”
“Where did he live before?”
“New Bern. You ever been there?”
Adam let out a loud “Ha! Have I ever been to New Bern? I’ve never even left Carteret County.”
“Well, working here, I reckon that’ll probably change,” said Boaz. “One of these days I reckon you’ll end up on Emmanuel’s sloop, but that won’t be anytime soon.”
“I think I’d like that,” said Adam.
Boaz grunted. “Oh yeah? Not me. Seasickness.”
Adam raised his eyebrows, quizzical. “Hmph. Don’t know if I’d get seasick. Never been far enough offshore.”
“You’ll find out eventually,” said Boaz. “But anyway, Emmanuel used to run a shipping company over in New Bern. A pretty successful one, too, from what I heard. Said he came down here to try to bring more things to the region. Had a lot of other merchant contacts in far-off places. Beaufort never has been much of a port, you know.”
“So anyway, he came here in spring of 1732, I think it was, and by January of ’33 he had rescued me from Stafford and brought me into his company.”
“Rescued you, huh?” Adam said with a little laugh. “Was it really all that bad?”
Boaz stopped working and looked squarely at Adam. “You try being a twelve-year-old boy whose debt-ridden father has just died and then being yanked away from your loving mother and made a slave to a drunk, abusive cooper. Yes, it was that bad. It was hell. There’s no other way to describe it.”
“Well, that does sound awful.” Adam swallowed hard. He paused for a moment. He wanted to change the subject to something more innocuous. “You ever been married?”
As soon as he asked the question, he felt like an idiot. That was far too personal. Adam realized that if Boaz ever had been married, he obviously wasn’t now, so it probably wasn’t the best way to turn the conversation in a more cheerful direction.
“Almost. Things didn’t work out, though.”
“I’m sorry,” said Adam.
After a couple of moments of neither of them saying anything, Adam had to say something. He could tell Boaz’s mood had changed, and now he was uncomfortable in the silence.
“I heard Mr. Rogers say you’re his right-hand man, like a son. Do you do other jobs here? Other than this, I mean.”
“You know, you sure do talk a lot, boy,” said Boaz. “Maybe you should work for The Gazette. You ask a lot of questions.”
“So I’ve been told,” said Adam.
Boaz gave a nod. “Hmph. Well, since you asked, Emmanuel was like a second father to me from the start. When he took me in, he showed me how to do everything. Took me everywhere. Eventually, I learned how to do everything in this business, but this coopering, this is the job that needs to be done now, so this is what I’m doing.”
After a moment, Boaz added, “The one thing I won’t do is go out to sea.”
“Of course. Seasickness, right?” said Adam.
Boaz nodded. “Yep.”
Another few minutes of awkward silence eventually prompted Adam to ask another question. “So whatever happened to your mother?”
“My mother? . . . Ah, dear sweet lady she was.” Boaz sighed. His tone was uncharacteristically tender. “She went to be with the Lord year before last. Lived a good, long life, bless her, but age just got the better of her, I reckon.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Adam. “I don’t want to think about my mama passing. She’s only thirty-five, though, so hopefully she’s still got a good, long road ahead of her. She’s the only real family I have.”
“And you always lived at the tavern?” asked Boaz.
Adam nodded. “Mm-hm. In fact, I was born in the same room where we’ve been living my whole life.”
“And what about your father?”
Adam scoffed. “What about him? He took off before I was born.”
“You don’t know much about him, then,” said Boaz.
“No. The only thing I know is that he was a sailor. Apparently, he and my mother got married in secret. A few months after they tied the knot he set sail. And as far as I know, she hasn’t heard from him since.”
“What a rake!” said Boaz. “So you don’t even know if he’s still alive?”
“You said they married in secret,” Boaz mused.
“Yeah, well, Valentine—he was her guardian at the time, ’cause she was only seventeen—he thought she was too young to marry, so he wouldn’t give his permission.”
“I see.” Boaz nodded. “What was your father’s name?”
“I don’t know. My mother has always refused to talk about him.”
“She ever say why? I mean, from what you’ve told me, I can’t say I blame her, but . . .”
“No, well, I think she just didn’t want me to go looking for him. Said it would only lead to heartache. I’ve tried to get her to tell me, but I reckon she’ll take that secret to the grave.”
Boaz shook his head. “Well, if she refuses to tell you, there’s probably a good reason for it. You prob’ly best just leave it alone. When things get buried, they aren’t usually meant to be dug up again.”
“I reckon so,” said Adam. “But still, it’s always bothered me not to know, and it’s even worse with the way people are always running their mouths.”
“How do you mean?” said Boaz.
“You know. People who don’t really know her or what happened—they don’t believe the two of them really were married, so they say all these terrible things and call her awful names.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, because she and my father never had a proper wedding. They said their vows, just the two of them, and the only witnesses were supposedly some of the men from my father’s crew. By the time she had me, my father was already long gone. Folks got the wrong impression. She’d been living and working in the tavern since she was thirteen, so folks started thinking she was a prostitute, mess like that.”
Boaz just shook his head. “I’d want to knock someone’s head off if they spoke that way about my mother.”
“I almost did,” said Adam. “That’s how I ended up here.”
Adam proceeded to tell Boaz all about his long-standing clash with Francis Smythe and how he had recently allowed himself to be provoked into busting the arrogant little aristocrat in the face.
“And he’s Ellison Smythe’s son, no less!” Boaz guffawed. “Boy, sounds like you really picked a good one to get into a fight with.”
Adam nodded sheepishly.
“Well, what’s done is done,” said Boaz. “Hot tempers and wagging tongues can do right much damage.”
Adam nodded in agreement. “Yeah. You got that right.”
“So your mother—she never remarried, then?”
“You’ve been the man of the house, then,” Boaz observed.
“And you’re seventeen, you said?” asked Boaz.
“So let’s see.” Judging by the expression on his face, Boaz was trying to do the calculations in his head. “That would mean you were born back in ’47.”
“May of ’48, actually.”
“Forty-eight, huh? I remember those days. They were some rough times. Especially ’47. That was a bad year. That’s when the Spanish took the town. You ever heard about that before? Three different times those rascals attacked our town, then finally, late that summer, they just came in and took possession. We ran ’em out, though.”
“Yeah, I know a little bit about that,” said Adam. “I hear ’em talking about it down in the tavern from time to time—some of the men who fought those Spaniards off. Mostly just when they’re drunk, though. They’re always down there bragging about their old fighting days.”
“Yeah. It’s always either that, or the French and Indian War. Or some kind of war story,” said Adam.
“Well, at least that last one’s behind us now,” said Boaz. “But I’m not sure how long the peace will last—not with all these damned new taxes and regulations.”
Adam was uninterested. “Taxes are so boring. I always hear ’em going on and on about that down at the tavern, but it doesn’t have anything to do with me, so I never pay much attention to it.”
“Foolish boy! What do you know?” Boaz laughed and stopped his work to stretch his back. “Of course it has to do with you. It has plenty to do with you—you just don’t know it yet. Any time a government starts collecting revenue, as they call it, it affects everybody.”
“If you say so.”
“Just think about it—that Sugar Act they passed last year, for example. When molasses and sugar gets taxed, and wine and coffee—well, that hits everybody. In fact, just think about that tavern of yours. Y’all use all that stuff, so you pay more for it when it gets taxed. Then your customers have to pay more. And when prices get too high, who can afford it?”
Adam shrugged. “I guess I understand.”
“Well, you better. I hate to have to tell you this, but right now you’re on the frontlines in the battle against those taxes. This is a shipping company. We import things from all over the place, and we export things, too, so when that pebble of taxation gets dropped into the big ol’ pond of the economy, we’re the first to feel the ripples.”
Adam stopped working for a moment and held up the plank he had been hollowing. “How does this look?”
“Let me see,” said Boaz. He examined the boy’s work, turning the stave from end to end, back and front, and then compared it in length and width to the original that he had given Adam to use as a reference. “Not bad. Looks like you finally got one right. You’re a pretty quick learner, boy.”
Adam smiled. “Thank you.”
“It’s close to suppertime, and I’d say we’ve done our lot for today. You hungry?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“You eating upstairs with us, or you goin back to the tavern?”
“If it’s alright, I think I’d like to run down to the tavern for a while,” said Adam. “You know, just to check on everything.”
Adam nodded and started for the bay doors.
“Listen!” Boaz called after him. “You need to be back by eleven. We start first thing in the morning.”
Adam nodded. “Alright. See you later, then.”