1775. In Massachusetts, the conflict between the British Empire and the American colonies becomes all out war. In the colony of New York, the Six Nations - or “League of Peace and Power” – must decide if they are going to participate in the war, and alongside whom. In the Mohawk River Valley a mestizo world exists. It is a great community of Indians, Irish and Scottish, founded by Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs appointed by King George. The thunder of war is heard in Boston and continues getting closer, old bonds are broken, the land that Sir William called "Iroquoireland" becomes a scene of hate and resentment. The war chief Joseph Brant Thayendanegea has to make a decision and set off, taking his people far from their native land, going beyond the world he has always known.
WU MING is a collective of Italian fiction writers, founded in Bologna in January 2000. Its books include the bestselling novel Q, published under the group’s previous pseudonym, Luther Blissett, and the Cold War thriller 54.
They had brought the children along as well, so that they might one day tell their children and grandchildren. After many attempts, they had finally stood the pole upright. The Liberty Pole.
A birch trunk, properly cleaned and smoothed. A tangle of rope. A red fabric rectangle cut from a blanket. The banner of the Continental Congress.
The German Flatts committee of safety was approving its first document: its acceptance of the remonstrance that the Albany Committee had sent to the British Parliament. It was read out by Pastor Bauer. The text concluded with a solemn undertaking to “join and unite together under all the ties of religion, honor, justice and love for our country, never to become slaves, and to defend our freedom with out lives and fortunes.”
The standard was just about to be raised, hailed by songs and prayers, when the sound of hooves interrupted the ceremony.
A squad of horsemen appeared outside the church. They brandished sabers, rifles and pistols. Someone fired into the air as the little crowd sought shelter among the houses. A few courageous people remained in the square. Frightened faces appeared from behind the walls, in half-open doors and at the tavern windows. A name flew from one mouth to the next, in a round dance of voices.
The name of the man who had fired his gun into the air.
Sir John Johnson.
Around him, the men of the Department of Indian Affairs. His brothers-in-law Guy Johnson and Daniel Claus. Directly behind him, Captain John Butler and Cormac McLeod, the Johnson family’s bailiff and head of the Scottish tenant farmers who worked the baronet’s land.
The only one missing was the clan’s old patriarch, Sir William, hero of the war against the French, lord of the Mohawk Valley, who had died the previous year.
Sir John was mounted on a gleaming bay thoroughbred that trembled against the constraint of the bit. He slipped from the group and began to ride along the perimeter of the square, staring disdainfully at the members of the committee, one after the other.
Guy Johnson brought his horse into the shelter of a canopy and dismounted with some difficulty, because of his build.
“Come on, we’re here to talk,” he called to the houses. “ That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
No one breathed. Sir John tugged on the bridle, and the horse stepped back and twisted its head before yielding to its master’s will.
Then someone summoned the courage. The group confronting the mounted men grew denser.
Guy Johnson scowled at them.
“To address a petition to Parliament is legal, but hoisting a banner that is not the king’s is sedition. One thing makes you look ridiculous, the other sends you to the gallows.”
Silence again. The members of the committee avoided looking at one another for fear of spotting signs of indecision in the eyes of their companions.
“Do you want to follow the example of the Bostonians?” Guy Johnson continued. “Two gunshots fired at the king’s army and it went to their heads. His Majesty has the most powerful fleet in the world. He is a good friend of the Indians. He controls all the forts from Canada to Florida. Do you imagine that the rebels of Massachusetts will get much more than a noose around their necks?”
He paused, as if he wanted to hear the blood boiling in the veins of the Germans.
“The Johnson family,” he went on calmly, “possesses more land and commerce than all of you put together. We would be the first to take your side, if His Majesty really were threatening the right to trade.”
A voice rang out loudly: “Your trade certainly isn’t threatened.
You are rich and well connected. We’re the ones being throttled by the king’s taxes.”
A chorus of agreement welcomed these words. From the top of the roof Guy Johnson made out Paul Rynard, the cooper. A hothead.
Sir John’s stallion shook its head and snorted nervously, and received another tug on the reins.
The baronet’s riding whip struck the leather of his boot.
“The taxes are needed to keep the army,” Guy Johnson replied.
“The army maintains order in the colony.”
“You need the army to keep us down,” Rynard shot back.
Tempers flared, some of the horsemen instinctively raised their arms, but lowered them again at a nod from Sir John.
“Not yet,” muttered the baronet.
Guy Johnson, red in the face, yelled from above: “When the French and their Indians threatened your lands, you cried out for the army! Peace has made you so arrogant and stupid that you want another war. Be very careful, freedom is no use to the dead.”
“You’re threatening us!” shouted Rynard.
“Get back to Ireland and your Papist friends!” called someone. A rock hurled at Guy Johnson just missed him.
A grimace of smug disdain crossed Sir John’s face: “Now.”
The horses moved forward, and the committee of safety dissolved on the spot. The men ran in all directions.
John Butler’s horse knocked Rynard down and sent him rolling in the mud. The cooper stood up again and was about to escape toward the church, but Sir John blocked his way. The baronet whipped him with all his strength. Rynard curled up on the ground, hands over his face. Between his fingers, he saw McLeod unsheathing his sword and setting off at a gallop. He crept away, invoking God’s mercy.
When he received the blow with the flat of the sword in the small of his back, he shouted out loud, amidst the rough laughter of the horsemen.
As it dawned on Rynard that he was still alive, the men of the Department gathered in the center of the square. Guy Johnson got back in the saddle and joined them.
A light kick with the spurs and Sir John was at the bottom of the Liberty Pole.
He spoke so that everyone could hear him, wherever they might be lurking.
“Listen carefully! Anyone in this county who wants to challenge the authority of the king will have to deal with my family and the Indian Department.” His malevolent eyes seemed to be unearthing all the inhabitants one by one, behind the dark windows.
“I swear on the name of my father, Sir William Johnson.”
He slipped one foot from his stirrup. After a few kicks, the pole tumbled into the mud.