"This is the story of Joseph Onderdonk, a teen-aged colonist of Dutch heritage, who lived on Long Island New York during the American Revolution.
It is my hope that Joseph’s loyalty and courage will inspire young readers to develop a sense of identity with Patriots of our country’s past and that older readers will acquire a greater appreciation of our nation's freedoms at a time when patriotism is sorely needed.
EXCERPT FROM THE RED COCKADE
The grey wall of the prison loomed high and forbidding. Fear for my father rose up around me like the prison walls we were approaching. Word had come to Cow Neck about prisoners being beaten and starved in the jails and aboard prison ships in the harbor. My heart gave a lurch when I saw a burly Redcoat standing guard.
The soldier stood with his feet planted wide in front of a big plank door. He gestured to Uncle with a long rifle held at an angle in front of him. “Move along, move along. No one ‘lowed in without a pass.”
“That I have.” Uncle said, withdrawing the folded paper from his coat and handing it to the guard. The soldier scanned the order quickly, returned it to Uncle Hendrick with a sneer, and motioned with his thumb to the big door.
“If it’s Capn’ Cuningham yer wantin, take the pass to the first room to yer right. You’ll find ‘im there ― that is if he’s of a mind ta see yah.”
Uncle’s grip on my arm was firm and sure. I felt myself being pulled through the door and down a dark hall. The hall looked to be as long as a man could throw a stone. The stench coming from cells on one side of the hall was the same as the smell of the dead cart that passed us at Whitehall Slip. My stomach knotted at the sound of groaning far down the passage way. Uncle turned into the first open door on the right. A high window showed scant light on a cluttered desk in the center of the room, but no one was there. He let go of my arm as we turned back into the hall. "Follow close behind me, Joseph. The captain must be about somewhere."
I was distracted by shapes in the shadows of the cells we passed and Uncle was soon several steps ahead, turning into another corridor. I hurried to make the turn and stumbled head first into a giant of a man. A huge coil of rope hung around his neck.Startled, I jumped back and looked up into the coal black face of the man towering over me. The Negro's ragged, filthy shirt smelled of sweat. He raised big hands up to adjust the coil of rope and stared mutely at me.
Uncle Hendrick stood in the middle of the passage facing a man wearing the uniform of a British officer. The man’s powdered wig was askew over his fat, red face. His eyes looked like dead fish eyes staring at Uncle.
"And what have we here?" he was saying to Uncle. "By what right do you prowl through my jail, sir?"
I moved quickly ahead to stand beside him. I could see a muscle twitch in Uncle’s jaw when he handed over the paper. "With permission of his majesty’s officer, General Robertson. We look for the provost, sir, for the release of Adrian Onderdonk. Would you be Captain Cunningham?"
"I am Provost Marshall, Captain William Cunningham," the man said, emphasizing each word. He read the paper and snorted in uncle’s face. His eyes narrowed, glaring at us for a long minute.
"Someone must have been owed a favor, then, I dare say," the Provost said, shaking the paper in front of Hendrick's face. "Just so, ‘twill be glad I am to see the last of the likes of Onderdonk. It means one less dammed rebel in here, traitor scum that he be."
"He’s not a traitor." I mumbled.My words hung there for a moment until Uncle grabbed my arm. I dared not look up, but sensed Uncle’s piercing gaze on me. He asked me to be silent. Heat rushed up my neck as fear came with the sudden knowing that I may have put Father’s release at risk.
Captain Cunningham’s fish eyes held fire now. It seemed to me they could burn right through me. Uncle Hendrick pushed out one hand, fingers pointing straight up.
"He’s only a boy sir, and meant no disrespect. We’ve come in peace to see that your prisoner pays allegiance to the crown; that Adrian Onderdonk may be returned to his family."
The captain flung out his arm, pushing me aside. He growled at Uncle, his jowls shaking as he sputtered. "Then do so and be quick about it. It’ll be one less rebel I’ll need to hang."
Cunningham rapped his knuckles against the coil of rope hanging around the Negro’s neck and pointed to a ring of keys hanging from a rope around the slaves' waist. The captain held up five fingers, then motioned with his thumb toward the front of the prison. "Take them to cell five and out of here." he said before he stalked away.
I knew I had angered Uncle. I could feel his anger like a live thing moving with us down the dark hall, but fear for myself was quickly displaced as terrible moans and cries came from the cells ahead.
The big Negro opened the narrow cell door with a key. Two men lay on straw pallets on the floor. One moaned and tried to raise himself when we entered the cell. Blood from his head had soaked his pallet and pooled on the stone floor. The other prisoner lay still as death, curled into a ball. It was father.
Look for The Red Cockade October 1st