Originally published as Independent Heart.
I still can't believe what I saw outside of Aunt Letitia's parlor windows last night. The whole City south of her house was on fire. We were afraid, and the servants stood before the door with muskets in hand. So much smoke blew about that even inside the house we were coughing. The whole sky turned red, and throngs of people carrying pitiful bundles of clothes ran and wept, driving their cows and horses down the street!
I hadn't believed it could happen, that General Washington could be driven out of New York and that the British would rule here again, but that's what has come to pass.
My Aunt believes that Americans set fire to the City themselves, that British troops were not responsible for this arson. This morning the fires still burn, and we've heard that more than half of the buildings downtown are in ruins. Auntie and I had hot words on the subject at breakfast, but after what I've seen and heard of this war, I confess I am truly not certain of what the truth is.
It's unimaginable, the things my Uncle Ten Broeck has written of, terrible things being done all up and down our peaceful valley, the looting and burning, the cruel maiming of horses and cattle done by those who must have nothing but evil in their hearts. Everywhere, my Uncle says, men settle old scores with their neighbors, while hiding these dreadful crimes behind politics--as if calling themselves "Loyalist" or "Patriot" can excuse the heinous things they've done.
Oh why did I ever come to New York? It has turned out exactly as Uncle Jacob warned. I've been a great fool, traveling in the middle of a war! All I want now is to go home, to sail up the river back to Kingston, but now I am trapped behind the lines of our enemy. My Aunt Letitia says that I--and my inheritance--are safer here, that because my Uncle Jacob is a patriot and defies the British, he will be hanged and his lands forfeited to the Crown. It is better, she says, that I "not be involved in his folly and ruin."
She keeps saying she wants me to marry "a respectable English gentleman" and "leave forever this barbaric place". She doesn't seem to understand that I am an American, bred in this land and rebel to the bone. Even though General Washington has been defeated, I believe that in the end--somehow, someway--our Cause will triumph and that one day we shall enjoy the blessings of true liberty and peace...
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