Recommended for ages 13+
Copyright © 2014 by Joe P. Attanasio
Sarah sat with her brother Samuel in his carriage and watched the rest of her family sail for Massachusetts. She thought of the conversation she had with her mother not an hour before. She had regrets to be sure but this was 1684 and New York City would be her new home and start of her new life. The large merchant frigate had left the great docks in lower Manhattan just minutes before and was already fading into the mist on the far side of the harbor. Sarah closed her eyes and listened to the caws from the gulls while replaying the goodbye in her mind.
She had just hugged her mother, also named Sarah, and kissed her on the cheek. She told her mother that Henry and George would take good care of her at the new house in Bedford, Massachusetts. Her mother gave her a cold look like she was a stranger and had said to her, “I will be fine. You need not feel guilty for staying here in New York. You are seventeen now and can do what you please.” She remembered how her mother turned away as she was saying the last few words and boarded the ship without looking back.
Sarah tried to excuse her mother’s cold attitude. She knew she was grieving over her father’s recent death. She knew her mother would miss their family home in northern Manhattan having lived there since Sarah was born almost eighteen years ago. The truth was that Sarah and her mother were drifting apart even before her father died. Growing up the only girl with four brothers had been hard on Sarah. So much was expected of her by her mother and Sarah felt pressured to become someone she was not.
Sarah thought it was a great idea when Samuel bought a house in Bedford, Massachusetts near their other relatives for her mother Sarah and her brothers Henry and George. Henry was assured a position working with their oldest brother James and their cousin Peter at their export business on the Boston docks. Her younger brother George would look for work near Bedford.
Sarah knew her mother and brothers would be fine. Her father, Col. Samuel Bradley, had become wealthy in the trade business since moving to New York. It was a smart move relocating here from Boston in 1666. The timing was perfect with the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam coming under England’s rule. Sarah was born in their country home in northern Manhattan near the Hudson River that same year.
Sarah thought about her four brothers. They were all very different, perhaps because they were all born someplace different. Samuel, the oldest, was born in Newcastle England. James was born in York, England. Henry was born in Boston. She and George were both born in northern Manhattan.
It had been eleven years since her brother James moved back to Boston, she was just a little girl then, but she remembered it well. Sarah had not seen James since he moved away. Would it be a long time before she saw her mother again?
“Are you alright Sarah?” Samuel asked snapping her back to the present.
“Yes, I was just thinking about our family and our home in the country. It seems strange to think that other people will be living there now and turning it into a farm. You have been living here in the city with father for a long time now. Do you think you will miss visiting our old home?”
“I moved here fourteen years ago when I was just seventeen like you are now. I remember when papa bought the house on Dock Street so he could be closer to the docks. I have considered this my home ever since. I must admit it has seemed somewhat empty since father died, even with Lena and Mary there. I am glad you asked to stay here with me. My store is doing very well and I am happy here.
Samuel always stood or sat erect making him look taller than his average height. He was lean but with a rounded face. His thick wavy dark blond hair covered his ears and barely touched his shoulders. He parted it down the middle and let it hang naturally. His clean shaven face had a profound look of kindness in it, heightened by his pale blue eyes.
Samuel took the carriage to Johnson’s Livery which was two short blocks from his house and they walked back.
The house at 6 Dock Street was a two story red brick townhouse of classic Dutch construction. The house had stone arches above the first floor windows and door. The traditional split door, in which both the lower half and the upper half can be opened separately was made of thick oak. The house was topped with a red gambrel roof made of wood shingles. There were three bedrooms upstairs and a kitchen, dining room and parlor on the first floor. Samuel retained a Dutch housekeeper named Mary Kees who was hired by his father. An African slave woman named Lena cooked and did chores. Lena slept on the enclosed delivery porch at the back of the house that led to the kitchen.
Sarah had been to the house before, but this time was different. This would be her new home and the start of a new life. She was excited as she paused outside the front door and looked up and down the street. Dock Street was only two blocks long. The end closer to Broadway was mostly small shops with living quarters above. This block closer to the East River was all residential and quieter than most of Manhattan. A nice breeze carried the fresh air from the bay down the street.
“I can hardly believe that I will be living here and working at your store. Thank you for allowing me to stay here in Manhattan with you.”
Samuel put his arm around Sarah’s shoulders.
“Sarah, living in this city will be a whole new world for you. Very different from what you have known at our home on the Hudson. This can be a dangerous and scary place, especially for a pretty young lady. I know I might sound like an over protective brother, but I expect you to listen to me. I have been working here for over thirteen years now and know what I am talking about.”
“I’ll be careful Sam and do whatever you tell me.” Sarah said giving Samuel’s shoulder a pat and smiling.
“Let’s get you settled in your room then.” Samuel said as he opened the door and they walked in.
Mary stood there waiting to welcome Sarah officially. Mary was about 50 years old and had long grey hair that she wore twisted into a bun. Her baby blue eyes were a stark contrast to her worn face and looked like they belonged on a much younger woman. Mary was stout but strong and it was evident she was no stranger to hard work. Mary spoke Dutch, English, German, French and a little Spanish. She lived in the small middle bedroom upstairs. Mary agreed to work at the house when her husband died in 1674 in exchange for little more than room and board. She had no desire to remarry and took comfort in being allowed to stay here and care for the Bradley family.
“Welcome to your new home Sarah. All your things have been delivered and put in your room.” Mary said with a warm smile.
Sarah nodded and smiled as she walked to the base of the stairs along the wall to her right. Sam followed Sarah as she led up the stairs. Her room was to the far left and Sam’s was at the top of the stairs.
Mary watched Samuel and his sister climb the stairs. Samuel was about a half a foot taller than his sister. Sarah looked pretty with her chestnut colored hair hanging loose and gathered on her shoulders. Her green eyes sparkled with the vibrancy of youth. The freckles and dimples on her baby face gave her a girlish look. Her lean but curvy body moved with grace as she climbed the stairs. She looked much older from the side and back. Mary thought about all the men who would call on her once she got known around town. She sighed at the thought and shook her head, chuckling to herself as she followed them up but went to her own room.
Sarah gasped when she opened the door to her room. Samuel had a beautiful four poster bed with fringed canopy delivered and made up to surprise her. Two featherbed quilts were on the bed.
“Sam, I love it! Where did you ever find the bed?” Sarah said as she walked to the bed and rubbed her hand down the contours of the carved oak post at the footboard.
“I saw it a few weeks ago and had to get it for you. I knew you would like it.”
Sarah looked around the room. There was a large white pine armoire along the wall on the right side of the small window and a tall Kas wardrobe chest on the other side. A beautifully painted carved oak chest sat at the foot of the bed. There was an ornate wood framed looking glass on the side wall with a small wool rug in front of it and a high backed chair. Sarah turned and gave Sam a big hug.
“You are so sweet to do this for me! I love you. I am lucky to have a brother like you.”
Sam smiled and patted Sarah’s back.
“I will enjoy your company Sarah. I am glad you wanted to stay. You get settled in and then come down for dinner." Samuel said as he walked out onto the landing and closed the door.
Samuel went through the arch that separated the kitchen from the rest of the house. Lena had two chickens roasting on the spit. Three loaves of fresh baked rye bread were cooling on the small table in the kitchen.
Lena was from the Sierra Leone region of northwest Africa. She was around thirty years old. She boarded an English slave ship with her son but he died on the crossing. Lena spoke some Dutch, English and Portuguese, mostly Dutch. Lena was short and muscular but lean. She had black hair, cut short and tied into pig tails, and brown eyes. Her face was scarred badly from an illness she once had. Lena looked like she had a scowl on her face all the time but it was from the scarring and not because she was unhappy. Samuel was glad Mary was at the auction when Samuel’s father bought Lena and helped select her. He was very pleased with her.
“The chicken smells good Lena.”
Samuel filled two pewter mugs with wine and brought them to the table. Then he sat in a ladder backed armchair near the window and looked out. As he was watching the people pass along the street, he wondered how Sarah would like living here. He wondered if she would like his friends and associates. He thought about the time a lady shared his bed. Sarah didn’t know about such things he decided, she had been too sheltered at home. How would having her here affect his life? While he was pondering these thoughts Sarah came down the stairs and joined him.
“What are you thinking about Sam? You seemed lost in thought.”
“Nothing in particular, I was just watching the people in the street. Lena roasted chicken and baked some rye bread, come sit at the table.”
The large wooden table had a chair at each end and a bench on each side. Samuel sat in a chair and Sarah sat next to him on a bench.
“I feel I should tell you that on occasion I may have a lady in my room. If my door is closed perhaps you should knock and wait for me to open it if you need me.”
Sarah laughed softly.
“I am a lot younger than you, and you must think that I don’t understand about men and women. However, I do know about such things. I will respect your privacy and not enter your room unannounced. You will do me the same honor, will you not?”
Samuel wanted to think about what Sarah just said so he didn’t answer right away.
“Have you been with a man already?” Sam finally asked hesitantly.
“Perhaps and perhaps not, I don’t think a lady should tell,” Sarah said with a grin.
Samuel let out a deep sigh. Just as he did Mary came in with a bowl of chicken and set it on the table and went back for the bread.
Samuel looked into Sarah’s eyes. Her steely gaze unnerved him a little. He decided to just smile and eat for now. He passed the bowl of chicken to Sarah.
“Here you go, help yourself.”
Sarah put two pieces of chicken on her wooden plate. Mary brought the bread in a basket wrapped in cloth. Samuel tore off a piece of bread and set it on Sarah’s plate before taking a piece for himself. They ate in silence for a few minutes.
“Let’s go to the store after we eat so you can officially meet everyone and I can outline your duties for tomorrow.” Samuel said while buttering his bread.
“That would be great, I am anxious to learn so I can help you.”
Samuel’s mercantile store was at 37 Browers Street which was about a 15 minute walk. Occasionally Samuel had Lena or Mary go to the livery and fetch his horse and carriage, but he usually walked. He decided they would walk this day which is why he had returned the carriage. He knew men and woman would stare at Sarah along the way. She looked pretty in her stylish gold colored long-waisted bodice and narrow copper colored embroidered skirt which was pinned up in the back. He wanted Sarah to experience the reaction she would likely get along the way. People did indeed stare at her as they walked. Pretty young ladies so lavishly dressed were rarely seen walking in this area. A bold man made a comment to her as she passed. Sarah ignored him completely, as if she never heard him. She saw some women whispering while looking in her direction.
Samuel’s store occupied a large stone and brick building. Standing at the front door of the store, Fort James could be seen past the far end of the street. As they entered the door a young man greeted him.
“Good day Mr. Bradley,” he said politely.
“Good day to you too Thomas,” Samuel replied.
Samuel led her to the office in the back of the store. His assistant manager sat at the smaller of the two desks looking through a stack of papers. He looked up from his work and stood immediately upon seeing Sarah.
“Sarah, I would like you to meet John Warner. He is my assistant and manages the store for me in my absence.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you Sarah,” John said with a polite bow of his head.
“It is a pleasure to meet you also,” Sarah said with a smile.
John was a little older than Samuel. He was a burly man with shoulder length black hair and a neatly trimmed beard. His heavy eyebrows made him squint almost hiding his dark blue eyes.
“John will show you around and tell you what your duties will be.” Samuel said as he sat at the larger desk.
John opened the door.
“Follow me Sarah,” John said politely.
Sarah had not been to the store for quite a while and had never met John before.
They walked out into the store. John closed the office door behind them. John introduced Sarah to the employees as they toured the store. Samuel sold just about everything at his store. The store was laid out in sections with similar items grouped together. The main areas were clothing, food, tools, furniture, household items, hardware and remedies. They also sold tobacco and liquors.
John gave her a quick tour of the store except for the clothing section which was in a separate room in the front corner of the store. After showing Sarah the store John led her through a large door into the storage area behind the back wall. This area was almost as big as the floor in the front.
“This is where most of the money is made. Samuel uses his trade connections to procure large orders for other wealthy individuals and other businesses and makes a good profit on them. We move a lot of stock through this back room.”
Sarah looked around at all the barrels and crates of cargo stacked in the back room. Looking out through the back door into the alley behind the store, men could be seen loading and unloading wagons.
“Some of these items come from the trade ships that dock here. But you will see a variety of goods taken in trade for payment on items purchased. Samuel or I have to approve all trades.”
“Follow me, I want you to meet Thomas Taylor, he manages the back room.”
John led Sarah to a table near the large back door leading outside. The man sitting at the table looked up and stood as they approached.
“Thomas, this is Sarah Bradley, Samuel’s sister. She is going to be working in the clothing section out front.”
“Nice to meet you Sarah,” he said in a polite but gruff voice.
Thomas was probably 50 years old or more. His face was wrinkled and grey hair could be seen sticking out from his hat. He was probably a handsome man in his youth. His eyes were grey and clear. He looked like he was in good physical shape for his age. He was a little taller than Sarah.
“If you ever need anything for yourself or your department, come see me. I keep a close eye on what is available around town.” Thomas said with a sly grin.
“Thank you Thomas, I will keep that in mind.”
John led Sarah back to the separate clothing and fabric room at the front of the store. Before they got too close John explained a little about Agnes, who was overseeing the department.
“Agnes Wood is an indentured servant that came here under contract till her debt of passage is paid off. Samuel picked up her contract and she has two years left on it. She has been here for two years and knows how everything works. Agnes will teach you what you need to know. You are going to be responsible for this department and Agnes will be your assistant.”
Sarah looked around the large room when she entered. There were many bolts of cloth stored here, all kinds and colors along wall to the right. There was no door leading out to the street but there were two small windows so people could look in. They carried a large selection of notions for sewing and a good assortment of adornments and ribbon. In the center of the room were tables and hanging racks with clothes.
Agnes was hanging a waistcoat for display when they walked up.
“Agnes, this is Mr. Bradley’s sister Sarah. She will be responsible for the clothing section and you will be her assistant. Will you show her how everything is done here?”
“Hello Sarah, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
“It is nice to meet you too, Agnes.”
“I will show her how you like things done, John.”
John nodded then turned and went back to his office.
Agnes was tall and very thin. She was about 25 years old and her straight brown hair just reached her shoulders. Her soft brown eyes looked large on her gaunt face. Sarah followed her around all day helping with things but mostly observing and learning. Sarah had many questions and it did not take her long to realize how smart Agnes was. Agnes was treated poorly by her family from York, England and signed her own contract to come here in servitude. She shares a room with five other women nearby. Samuel has been good to her and she likes working for him.
After about three hours Samuel came and got Sarah and they went home in a carriage.
“Well Sarah, do you think you will like working for me? I can be pretty stern at times.” Samuel said using a deep voice and trying to maintain a scowl, which he could barely do.
Sarah leaned across the seat of the carriage and whispered in Sam’s ear. “You could never be mean, not with a face like that, you are too nice. All your employees like you. You don’t scare me at all.” Then she kissed him on the cheek.
That evening after supper Samuel and Sarah talked about the store. Sarah wanted to know about the other people working there and how goods were purchased and sold from the ships coming into the bay. She was also interested in how the trading worked and what was in the most demand. Samuel enjoyed her interest and enthusiasm and was happy to talk to her about it.
Mary helped Sarah get undressed and into her sleeping gown.
“I am going to read for a little while before I go to sleep,” Sarah said taking a large book from the chest at the foot of her bed. Mary moved the candle stand closer to the chair so Sarah would be able to read better.
“I never learned to read Sarah. What are you reading?”
“This is the Third Folio of Shakespeare’s works. It includes seven plays that were not included in the Second Folio. I read them over and over. This was a gift from my father and a treasure for me.”
“I wish I would have learned to read when I was younger but there was nobody to teach me.”
“I know very few women ever learn to read, most men don’t either. I always wanted to learn and my father had me tutored for years, starting when I was eight years old. He somehow knew I would stick with it and learn.”
“Rest well tonight, I will see you in the morning.” Mary said backing toward the door with a warm smile on her face.
“Thank you Mary for your help. I find comfort in knowing you are here.”
Mary nodded, then turned and left the room closing the door behind her.
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