By Vicki Weisfeld
My name is Aaron Jeffries. I am twelve years old. I want to write what happened to me in the War of Independence, so that other boys will take note.
I am a single orphan since 1775, when my father cut his hand hauling ammunition boxes at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He got poisoned blood and Died. When he went to join up with General Washington, I asked why he did not side with the Tories, so he could stay here in New Jersey with us. He was a powerful admirer of Doctor Franklin and quoted him back to me: “He that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.”
I surely do not want to rise up with fleas, but I miss my father and blame the Redcoats for taking him. Our mother was hard put to feed four children, so in the spring of 1776, when I was eight years old, I and my older sister had to quit school and be put out to work, while the babies stayed home.
John Abbott House; photo: Blake Bolinger, creative commons license
Mother sent me to Mr. John Abbott. He has a fine big house about two miles away, and I could walk home on weekends. So that you will not think I am too much of a Braggart, some of what I tell below I copied from letters Mrs. Abbott wrote my mother. She said I could.
Mr. Abbott was away most days, being active in Politicks. Mrs. Abbott and her sister ran the place and were very regular in their ways. I helped Gus, the hired hand, take care of the chickens and the garden, which I did know how to do. A lot of things I never done before and had to learn about them. They had me polishing the brasses and the silverware and carrying dishes back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen. I was working for Mrs. Abbott only about two weeks when a greasy dish slipped out of my hand and crashed to the floor. That broke one of Mrs. Abbott’s fancy plates!
She gave me a Broom and told me to take the pieces to the cellar and put them in a big pan she used for broken dishes and glassware and the like.
“My mother buries them in the yard,” I said, thinking to give her helpful advice. “Behind the chicken shed.”
“I can’t be planting a new flower bed and be cut to ribbons by a buried piece of crockery,” she said. I understood that. She did not want Poisoned Blood.
I found the pan and set the pieces in it like she said. After that, on hot days, I’d go down to the cellar and study those broken pieces and pretend they were treasure in a treasure chest.
Mrs. Abbott wrote to my Mother about it: “One day this week Aaron dropped a dish that broke, and I know he sorely regretted it. If he mentions it to you, please reassure him that we understand accidents happen. He moped a bit, so I think it troubled him. There’s no need. He’s a very good boy, always helpful and interested in everything that goes on around here.”
photo: Chris RubberDragon, creative commons license
That fall we harvested and preserved the farm’s fruits and pickled the vegetables and stocked the root cellar. We had meats in the smokehouse too. Mrs. Abbott sewed me a warm jacket, and her sister knitted me a sweater. Once when it snowed on Saturday, Gus took me home in the wagon. After that, Mrs. Abbott got me some Boots.
Mrs. Abbott likes inishativ. She said she does not want to have to tell me every little thing. If I see something that needs doing, I should just do it. I told Gus she was complaining her kitchen knives were dull, and he said we should get busy and sharpen them.
“You be careful,” she hollered out the door when she saw us with the grindstone. “You can cut yourself to ribbons doing that.” That was true, and I Was careful.
One night in early December, a long while after dark, we had a Visitor. A wagon pulled up out front and we heard a knock. I ran to the door and opened it wide. It was Mr. Samuel Tucker, who is a friend of Mr. Abbott.
I knew him because he came to the house a few days before and brought boxes full of papers. He and Mr. Abbott hid them in the Attic under my bed. Mr. Tucker was the State Treasurer for New Jersey. Mr. Abbott said that meant he was in charge of all the Money for the state. He told me that that money would help us win the War. I brought Mr. Tucker right into the front parlor.
They sent me to bed, and I did not know any more about it until the next day when I was in the cellar fetching a pot of jam and saw a big Barrel that had not been there before.
I asked Mrs. Abbott about the barrel, and she started talking about the Chores I had to do that day, so I knew she did not want to discuss it. I would have to see about it on my own and I did.
I went down to the cellar that afternoon and had a peek. A ways down, there was some straw, and I pushed it aside. Underneath were more gold coins than I ever hoped or thought to see and paper money. Later I found out it was more than twenty-five hundred pounds, the whole treasurey of the State of New Jersey! Mr. Tucker had been dessprit to find a good hiding place for it.
As things turned out, it wasn’t such a good place, because a Woman in Trenton knew what he’d done and pretty soon hundreds of Redcoats marched up to Mr. Abbott’s house. He was in Philadelphia.
I was scrubbing the kitchen floor when I heard their racket, and I did not need to think twice to know why they were there. I took a candle down to the cellar, thinking to guard the state treasurey if I had time and could figure out a way.
I heard soldiers stomping overhead, and soon one of them came down to the cellar. He was very tall and had to bend over because of the low sealing.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“The kitchen boy.”
“What are you doing down here?” He pointed his Brown Bess at me, the bayonette close to making a hole in my new winter shirt.
“Fetching a pot of jam,” I said and pointed at the full shelves. “Do you want some?”
“What’s this?” He pointed the bayonette toward Mr. Tucker’s barrel.
“Our broken dishes and glassware.”
“So much?” He looked at me, narrowing his eyes.
I kept quiet.
He lifted the lid of the big barrel with the tip of his bayonette. “I see,” he said.
“Those pieces can cut you to ribbons,” I said and held out a small pot of plum jam. He put it in an inside pocket.
“On your way,” he said.
I took my candle and he followed me up the stairs. Mrs. Abbott and her sister were in the front parlor. When they saw me come up from the cellar with the bayonette of the soldier right behind me, Mrs. Abbott went pale as milk.
This is what she wrote my Mother: “You can believe, my dear Mrs. Jeffries, that my sister and I were absolutely quaking when that Redcoat marched Aaron up the stairs. He did not look injured, nor was he crying, but we had no idea what had gone on down there. I called him to me and the three of us stood together in the parlor speaking nary a word. After a few minutes the soldiers upstairs clomped down with Samuel Tucker’s boxes and carried them out to their wagon. They didn’t know it, but the papers in those boxes will be useless to them!
“‘I hope you are finished,’ I said to the officer in charge. ‘We’ll have ourselves quite a time putting everything back in order.’
“He was not pleased with my tone, but his English manners would not permit him to be rude to a lady, and he swallowed his temper. I counted seven soldiers who had entered my home, and seven who left. Nevertheless, Aaron helped us search the house to be sure. I’ll let him tell you himself about the very good deed he did that day.”
Once the Redcoats were well away and we saw they had not left behind any spize, Mrs. Abbott put her hands on my shoulders and asked, “What happened down in the cellar?”
I showed her how I had dumped the broken dishes on top of New Jersey’s money. It looked like a barrel full of dangerous Sharp Pieces.
“So he left with nothing?”
“I gave him a pot of plum jam.”
She laughed for pretty near five minutes at that and told me how proud of me she was. And that is why I got to go back to School, with Mr. Tucker and Mr. Abbott sharing the cost of my Schooling and me still helping Mrs. Abbott and her sister every Saturday.
photo: Ann Larie Valentine, creative commons license
Note: The New Jersey state treasury was indeed hidden from the Redcoats under a pile of broken crockery, though not by fictional eight-year-old Aaron Jeffries, at the John Abbott II house. The house is now the home of the Hamilton Township Historical Society and available for tours. One hundred fifty years after this story takes place, Scotsman Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, and a small cut was no longer a potentially deadly hazard.
This short story was published in the July 26, 2017, U.S. 1 Summer Fiction issue.