The Louisiana Romance of Mary the Clark's Girl AKA Natoma Marie Prud’homme AKA Mrs. William Walker

(2 to 3 hours)

 

Introduction

 

A big cat-fish collided with Marquette's canoe, and startled him; and reasonably enough, for he had been warned by the Indians that he was on a foolhardy journey, and even a fatal one, for the river contained a demon 'whose roar could be heard at a great distance, and who would engulf them in the abyss where he dwelt.'
I have seen a Mississippi cat-fish that was more than six feet long, and weighed two hundred and fifty pounds; and if Marquette's fish was the fellow to that one, he had a fair right to think the river's roaring demon was come
.”  from Twain, Chapter 2, Life on the Mississippi; http://www.mtwain.com/Life_On_The_Mississippi/2.html

 

This film takes place across the eighteenth century.   The shifting identities of its main character, Mary the Clarke’s servant (born Natoma Marie Prud’homme; and later Mrs. William Walker), are juxtaposed with some light-hearted takes on falling in love, the battles of the sexes, and even the caste/class system, in the seedy shantytowns and the seedy and non-so-seedy taverns at the edges of a civilization hungry for land, set against the backdrop of the French-Indian war and the Choctaw-Chickasaw-French-English conflicts that lead up to it, in a country that has been “split down the middle” (and sometimes sold down river). 

 

There's a sometimes humorous tension between Mary--taken as a girl from her family--'s desire to return to her childhood, to her village in the Mississippi wilderness, to her stickball, to her mother and father; and society's hunger for land, with the ensuing conflict and breakdown of cities. Hopefully the characters make us laugh at ourselves, and this humor lifts the script above the social/political issues surveyed through it--land rights, inflation, and conflict--and yet these issues, and their roles in shaping what nations are today, are not completely lost in the comedy.

 

Mary is based on a real-life New England runaway named Molly, a “Southern Indian” who, by the time she fled, spoke English fluently.  Molly took with her money and clothes, according to Gallay (The Indian Slave Trade).

 

1. Actress/Musician Tamara Podemsky (at  http://www.podemskichicks.com/

http://www.podemskichicks.com/tamara.html[1]  ) may play Mary. 

 

The backdrop is the gorgeous scenery of the Mississippi and Charles Rivers (in Massachusetts) and their wetlands, the first where Mary is born and ultimately returns to, the second which she uses to guide and hide her when she runs away

(see  http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/mississippi/homochitto/

http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/mississippi/homochitto/mis/Screechowl_Kestrel.html

http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/mississippi/delta/

http://www.endlichphoto.com/Photo_Gallery/Places/New_England/Charles_River/charles_river.html

http://www.crwa.org/index.html?left.html&1

http://www.crwa.org/index.html?No_Nasties_Stream_Team/main_page.html&2)

One goal of the film, set on these two Rivers, is to depict the wetlands, and perhaps thus to draw attention to today's interrelated issues of water quality, wetlands and wilderness preservation, and flood management (see also, http://www.cleancharles.org/ ). 

 

  2. Above: Delta National Forest, Near Vicksburg (from the Forest Service)

 

3. Below: Sunset on the Charles River, near Newton, Ma.(Photo by Charles Endlich/Endlich Photo.com.)

 

(Note: The film must open and close with a brief note in writing referencing the rivers flashed across the screen—‘filming was done with the help of ---; at the Charles/Miss River forests/parks services; the rivers make up X parts of ecosystems; efforts to clean up and preserve the rivers are vital to . . . -- and a portion of any profits should fund efforts to preserve the rivers, the surrounding wetlands, and loess zone, as well.’)

 

1.  Act One (40-50 minutes; about 3-4 minutes per scene; some are quick glimpses; a few will linger to 5 minutes!)

 

It’s the end of 1711.  A solitary kestrel overlooks a burnt village amid cane breaks along the Mississippi; all the houses and lookouts are burnt.  In the background, "My City Was Gone" (http://www.urbanohio.com/forum2/index.php?topic=833.msg7389) is playing:

"Well I went back to ohio
But my family was gone
I stood on the back porch
There was nobody home
I was stunned and amazed
My childhood memories
Slowly swirled past
Like the wind through the trees
A, o, oh way to go ohio

"I went back to ohio
But my pretty countryside
Had been paved down the middle
By a government that had no pride . .
. "

 

4. Below: A Solitary Kestrel in the forest near the River (image from the Forest Service)

    

 

Summer, 1711. 

 

It is the green corn festival.  Mary, aged ten (with hair still worn in ear coils), her young mother (“Therese”), her father (“Pushmataha,” tall, darker than Mary's mother), and grandfather (“Prud’homme[2],” fifty-ish, lighter, bearded, with brown curls, French) are enroute to visit Pushmataha's Natchez clan[3] to the south. They are just outside the town, joking about the ‘devil’ in the woods and dressed in deerskin travel gear; they carry pouches of some corn, dried fruit, as an offering for the stickball games (played a lot like Field Hockey) they will join.

  At they arrive at the Natchez village, stickball is just starting; Mary joins the game , with other Choctaw and Natchez on her team; on the opposite team, some youth, in dress and hair more like Mary's tribe than the Natchez, start taunting her (in Chicacha; English subtitles):

 

We are fox, not bird here.  Have you come to the wrong place, or will you visit your French clan of cowardly warriors too now?

 

Mary recognizes the youth's language as Chicacha (from a village that is a sometimes ally of the English) & replies in Chacta:

 

Whiskey breath, will you visit your English clan? 

 

The youth all laugh and the stickball game resumes.  Mary is a good player, but the opposing team wins, and Mary is dejected but determined to “beat them at ripe corn,” the next corn festival.

 

The return trip is by river (a member of Pushmataha’s clan has insisted that the four-some borrow a canoe and return it another time):  a big catfish almost tips over the canoe, and the foursome now joke about the “devil in the river.

 

Back in Mary’s village, still during the Green Corn Fest, we see the Mississippi in the early dusk June moonlight, its catfish, its 'loess zone' wildlife, and the cane breaks in which the Choctaw ("Chacta")  were famous for hiding.  The camera moves between (1), the loess zone and cane breaks--which ultimately give way to a small village where Mary and her family gather with other Chacta in its plaza; and (2), two sweating Shawneeo runners carrying wampum necklaces and the calumet of peace for a 1711 meeting with the Chacta.  The camera scans the village and surrounding fields, closes in on the cane-torch-lit central plaza where the festival is being celebrated.  The runners arrive at the opening of the village, are spotted and quickly escorted by several Chacta warriors bearing cane torches, then led into the village plaza where Mary and her family are feasting.  The Shawnoe are presented with the ceremonial black drink of the southern tribes, but soon are drinking French liquor with the Chacta, boasting.  Mary sitting with her family is less than pleased by the drinking which her mother, aunt, cousin, and French grandfather all do plenty of.

 

Fast forward to winter, December, 1711, to Mary and her family’s smaller winter home.  Just past dawn, Mary's father (bow & arrow across his back, blade swung across his shoulder) arrives in the camp, accompanied by several other Chacta men who are carrying small game and firewood. His face is bloodied.   The father explains that Chicacha are in the woods, not far away; and that he is not badly hurt.  The town is placed on alert, then, after a short scare, we flash to a young Chacta runner returning from the north with a signal coordinated with a signal from one of the lookouts in the town, and a resume of the normal. 

 

PLOT POINT

 

Not long after, in a night raid and scuffle, Mary and her mother are captured by Indian (mostly Chicacha, with some Creek) and (a few) English soldiers and traders under the traders Thomas Welch and Captain Theopilus Hastings.

 

After a hasty trip through the woods with little rest, Mary and her mother listen to the belated Christmas celebration of the traders in the Chicacha town (near present-day Memphis), where they sit guarded by Swiss soldiers who refuse to join the rowdy and “savage” celebrating of their English and Amerindian ‘friends.’  Mary, now separated from her mother, reaches Charlestown, South Carolina, and –l ate winter, 1712—is sold to a low-drawing ship, bound for Charlestown Harbor, Ma., commandeered by Captain Lamb[4] , himself of Massachusetts.  As Mary and other captives are brought onto the ships, the captains at the port keep count.

 

The camera flashes back to the burned village and kestrel of the opening scene.  Then back to the exchange of money between the traders and the Captain.  After this exchange, one of the two traders who took Mary turns to his friend, and winks:  “Pray,” he says, “if y’are again to Aingland, tell my wife if y’see her that I ha’ got nay money, am not worth a groat.”

 

Mary, brought to the auction block in Charleston, Ma., in a scuffle, is purchased by a Mr. Clarke, who runs a fairly classy tavern and ferry in Newton with his wife and large, friendly, easy-going, teenaged daughter who prefers projects of her own to tavern work.  Again, an exchange of money.

 

This first act closes with a view of the letter/report written by Expedition Captain Theopilus Hastings to the Carolina House of Commons, stating the number of slaves taken, the village burning done (cited in Gallay: 290-291), scrolled to the tune of “Good King Richard,” and framed by a collage of the characters in this first act, toasting one another, toasting this ‘changing of the guard’ on the Continent.

 

Act Two (fifty-sixty minutes)

 

Fast Forward.  Queen Anne’s War has ended with an exchange of territory, according to the news in Clarke's tavern.  Mary cooks and serves the guests, while Mrs. Clarke generally busies about chatting and helping, Mr. Clarke makes plans to run for selectman again, and teenaged daughter Susan mopes about cheerfully, sampling baked goods, working on projects of her own, and occasionally helping out.

 

The Tuscacora and Yamasee War news reach the tavern via regular guest (Josiah Crosby), and reach also the ever-listening ears of Mary, thirsty for news of her home and mother.  Just outside, aless than successful tavern guest fights his more successful acquaintance (Master Winslow), also a tavern guest, and the Constable who investigates, as was the trend of the day, concerns himself with what drink the man of less than middling means had access to. In the midst of this, a customer begins making sexually explicit comments to Mary, which repels Mary, still young and a bit immature, still distrustful of most whites, and not interested in this particular man in any case.  At a Sunday dinner with the Clarke family, Clarke suggests each might want to read his/her favorite passage from the Old Testament and then find an answer to it in the New.   Crosby, who has been invited to join the family, reads his favorites, the one from the New touching on his pet theme, taxes, raising Clarke’s eyebrows a bit. Mary reads a passage from the Judges that she seems to know by heart, bringing Clarke’s eyebrows up a notch higher.  Mary then shifts uneasily as she searches for a passage to go with the passage, falling finally upon a passage about war in Revelation which she stumbles over terribly.  She then tries to excuse herself saying she must check the kitchen, but is asked by Clarke to stay and hear the rest as the Clarke family merrily chooses favorite passages.

 

New England tavern scenes of work and news are interspersed with scenes from back south:  a leader of a faction of Carolina traders receiving an Indian messenger; the local assembly postponing reform of the Indian trade; and finally-- the night before the Yamasee and Creek massacre almost all of South Carolina’s Indian negotiators and traders—Mary’s mother, now a servant-slave at the tavern run by Jordan+ on Cochron’s* land, serving the Yamasee and Creek chiefs together with the Carolina traders and negotiators.  The Yamasee War thus begins.

 

Mary, during quiet times, sews projects of her own, including a somewhat mysterious satchel which she claims is a special gift for someone.   (Mary sewed also with her mother in Act One, before the raid; she will sew for a living in Act Three, after her escape; and finally, she will sew with her daughter and grandchildren as she describes her early life at the tavern and along the Mississippi, and notes the River’s changes, as the family journeys back to it in quest of land.)  

 

Not long after the Yamasee War’s beginning, as night darkens, the local guests go home.  Mary serves as usual a simple supper to travelers, and closes the tavern for the night. 

 

After supper, Mary retires to her customary sleeping place on the kitchen floor but only pretends to sleep.

 

In the middle of the night, Mary rises and makes sure all is quiet, then slips about the inn, taking money and clothing that she has memorized the locations of, and packing these into the satchel that she has been sewing, rubbing some lavender oil into her hands and taking the vile of oil as well.

 

Mary hikes out into the clouded-over full moon of early May along the Charles River, towards Boston, and tosses into the rising tide evidence to elude search parties—a bundle she has fastened, mixing strands of her hair with the money and clothing in it.  Wading in the water now, she heads back in the opposite direction, westward, leaving the bundle in the East of the rising stars, slipping past the dark tavern in the barely moonlit night, crossing the river far West of the tavern and to the North side, wading and swimming.  She changes clothing, and makes her way West, to almost in fact the Connecticut line.

 

Mary then crawls under some branches which she has bent carefully without breaking, unbends these, and covers her tracks on the ground behind her with leaves.  

 

The camera returns to the Clarkes’, who have organized a search party; their dogs find a trail at dawn but no Mary.

 

The camera then returns to Mary, who watches a small party of Nipmuc (from just South East of Grafton and Worcester), returning from this first May moon’s planting.  Mary peers out from the bottom of the thicket in which she is crouched—light enters from without at the bottom but does not lighten the black thicket).  She freezes, covers her mouth and heart.  The Nipmuc pass.  Mary peers around, grows unnerved, finally creates a Medicine Wheel that circles a tree in which a woodpecker makes its home, the woodpecker being important to Mary’s clan.

 

Back at the Clarkes’, it’s afternoon, and an expedition consisting of Mr. Clarke, his son, and two neighbors has turned up the packet dropped by Mary, with some money and an item of Mary's clothing, but no Mary.  This becomes the topic of tavern discussion.

 

To the west, Mary sits in a trance-like state inside the Medicine Wheel.  A dream-like flashback of the story of her tribe’s crossing the Gulf, its arrival in the country along the Mississippi, its intermarriage with other tribes, its split from the Chicacha, a story she heard often as a child, and which was in fact the theme story of the elders the night of the raid, is narrated.

 

MIDPOINT:  DECIDING ACTION

 

Back in the wilderness, now past dusk, still crouched in the thicket, Mary changes a second time, struggling in the brush. She sticks her head out of the brush, a bonnet drawn over the tattoos on her face, emerges, heads back East, determined to find a place for herself in the new country she now lives in, following the "Great Trail."

 

Enroute, in the dark, about two hours into her return journey East, a man, going the opposite way, passes Mary. She keeps to the shadows so that she is only semi-visible. When he greets her, Mary, using her best English—with the Irish accent she has picked up from the tavern—fabricates a story of an errand for a sister and aunt. The two pass without further conversation.  Further along the trail, near Boston, as the sun rises, Mary slips into a gully or swamp of the Charles, just escaping the notice of a fishing boat. She slips into a hiding place and the boat's crew looks at where she was. 

 

In the heat of the mid-morning:  the focus is on the slums of Boston.  Mary meets an older hard-drinking Nipmuc woman herb doctor, Rebecca, who tells Mary she looks like a granddaughter, and works over Mary’s tattoos to remake them as much as possible in the Narragansett style, so that Mary will be able to ‘hide in plain site,’ taking on the identity of a mixed-blood Narragansett and French (protestant) woman.

 

2.  Act Three (40-60 minutes)

 

Back in Newton, at the Clarke's tavern. An image of a news advertisement flashes as guests read it:

 

Runaway named Mary.

Southern Indian.

Speaks English well. 

Has money, clothes.

Will give Horse and six pounds.  

Next day, pre-dawn, Long Wharf:  Mary changes a third time, this time into finery, mostly stolen, in a hide out near the wharf.  She approaches the wharf where there are several ships docked, and almost trips on her clothing.

 

The camera focuses on Mary, then on a Scotch-Irish traveler getting off the boat (male, mid twenties, William Walker), first on one, then on the other.  As the two approach, their moves are exaggerated, comic; the man Walker about to be indentured charges off ship to find his boss when he learns the boss is nowhere about the ship, rather than waiting on board in the cramped hold below deck;  a couple of merchants inadvertently distract the Captain as Walker slips past. Seeing Mary, Walker throws a pinch of  English 'love' powder Mary's way.   Mary likewise watches him as the two approach in sort of a dance.

 

This young man introduces himself to Mary in Scottish-British English (middle-to-working class).  Mary introduces herself in English with a mostly faked heavy French accent she has remembered or learnt, inadvertently coupled with a bit of the Irish accent she has picked up at the tavern, an Irish accent Will Walker never even takes note of; Mary tells Will she sailed to Britain where she had relatives, and from there to here.  A “protestant, she claims she has a small inheritance “from an aunt in England,” and has decided to seek a new life in America.  She gives Walker her French name (Marie Prud’homme), playing the part of a French lady of the low nobility.

 

Mr. Walker shows Mary to a nice old Boston inn and helps her ask for a room, which she pays for with stolen money.  As Walker leaves, Mary is singing softly a Choctaw love song; she grows self-conscious & so sings it more loudly, but switching to a French translation that she improvises, forcing some rhyme.

 

Mary settles into Boston, covering her redone tattoos with bonnets and such, and making a living sewing.  Dressed now in finery, she meets again with her newfound Nipmuc friend Rebecca, again at the drainage canal behind the shops of Back Bay, this time in quest of Nipmuc “medicine” for love. 

 

REBECCA

(slowly, seriously, clearly)

Miss, I wul tell yey something I have learnt.

(pause, Rebecca looks about her to see who is watching)

Yeh know if yer a servant here, if ye are poor here, ye best be careful if yeh wear fine clothing.  Ye’re to dress as ye’re to dress, an’ if yeh do not, they ha’ written something in their books again’ it.

 

MARY

Aye.

(very softly)You tell no one.

 

REBECCA

(softly, but a bit louder than Mary)

Aye.  Miss Becca tell no one.

This man, Will, he work here?

 

MARY

Aye.

Builds ships.  Helps build ships.

 

REBECCA

(pauses, then replies, frowning)

Not too rich, eh?

He wul not help you too much.

(softer)

Yeh need rich man I think now,

Hide ye from the white man who chase yeh—at that tavern.

 

MARY

(normal tone)

Aye

E seems nice, Miss ‘Becca.

Will does seem nice, ee mean.

 

REBECCA

That is good, Miss.

(suddenly brightening).

(softer)

“He wul lie fer yuh, Miss?

 

MARY

Eh?  Lie for me?

Ee cae’ na’ say.’

(pause, then speaking more softly)

Rebecca, ye know ee cae’ na’ tell but ye me situation.

 

REBECCA

Aye.  I tell no one, have tol’ no one, Miss.

(pause)

So he not know yeh, an’ ye wul sleep with him.

Yes?

Ye wul live with him too?

 

MARY

Eh?

Ee cae na think on that part, Miss Becca, n’on sleeping with him, n’ on living with him, nae-ither.

But ee wull dress as ee wull as ee will not be poor.

 

Rebecca shakes her head, looks down, mutters something inaudible, takes a swig of the liquor she has with her. Mary takes out a small stolen bank note (smallest denomination printed “20 shillings” not really for the poor); shows it to Rebecca.

 

MARY

(continuing)

See, aye, ee ha’ still got a few wi’ me and ee will work hard and save these notes up and ha' more; the value of everything goes up wi’ time ee ha' heard, and if not they cae print up more of these ee ha heard as well, that is to take the place of the lost value.  Wi’ enough of these bank notes, Rebecca, why, ye can buy

(gestures to surrounding ditches and canals and refuse)

this piece of earth, an’ ye wul ha’ all ye need an’ will always be free to do or dress as ye wold like.

 

REBECCA

Aye.

Miss no one pays it too much mind back in here,

So ye can do as ye wold like most of the time wi’ out buying much.

(pause)

Yeh can dress as yer please perhaps here.

 

MARY

(laughs)

Aye.

Yet wi’ these bank notes, ye can buy a prettier place an’ ye cae’ do as ye wol’ like.  Ee suppose it would do to get a prettier place, eh, though Boston is fine.

 

REBECCA

(sighing)

Aye, I suppose.

You wan’ Nipmuc medicine ye say?

 

Rebecca takes out some tobacco from a pouch in her basket.

 

On Rebecca’s advice, Mary sends Walker some sweets partly flavored with an Algonquian love herb.  She also sets herself up to learn garment fitting, with a client of Mrs. Waldo, wife of one of the merchants who unintentionally distracted Walker’s Captain as Walker slipped away, and from whom the hooded and over-tattooed Mary has already purchased some cloth for sewing.  Finally, in late October, the Rev. Mather presides at the couple's wedding as the Cherokee prepare to sell Creek slaves to their friend, South Carolina ‘s Yamasee War negotiator, George Chicken, who would have preferred peace between the Cherokee and Creek.  But as the Cherokee point out, there is nothing left in the woods to sell the Carolinians but slaves.

 

Some months later.   Mary is sewing.  Mr. Walker is resting after work; his indenture will be done in about a year.  Mary asks him about this, noting it will be good for the couple to get out of Boston if they can.  "You never do fit hair," is the reply. Ye hardly read the Bible, ye.  "I'm French," is Mary’s retort.  We are not the same as the English quite.

"Yer ‘r Catholic?" 

"Nay, protestant."

"Well I can't say for the French protestants, I aim Airish,  but whatever ye aire, it is straunge." 

[Pause]

"Ee think we should leave, get somewhere free." 

"We’ aire free hair!

"Ye said ye liked the countryside." 

"Ae did." 

"Ee was indentured a while, too, Will.  Ee was glad to leave . . .[pause] at the end of m’ indenture

"Ye ware indentured??  In France?  Or in Aingland?

"Here.  You think Ee am a strange protestant.  Ee am Metis to tell the trouth." 

"Catholic then, Ae knew!”

Nay . . .

“And how came ye to be indentured here?!  I saw ye at the port?  Ye ha’ just come, ye ha’ not worked in this countrey!?

"Naiee [drawing it out], Ee had only come from a short trip [pause of a bit], to Rhode Island.

"Rhade Island?

"M’ kin there, Ee am [pause] Narragansett." 

"Nawt Fraench? "

"Part Frensh.

"Yes, Prud’homme, right?

"Ai." 

"Ye wont to kill all our English people I suppose? Ee will be the first scalp . . .

"Prud’homme is my grandfather!  [pause]   Ee know some Frensh." [Mary thickens her faked accent.] 

"Ye spake like ye talked only French." 

"Me English was . . . Ee am Narragansett . . . friends of the colony." 

"Nay nawt all of them aire.  [Pause]  Who indentured ye with?

"[Pause]  It wa[s]n't here.  [Pause] Mr. Hatch, in Tolland. [Pause]  We'd a debt, my mother and Ee."

"Well it was good of ye to tell me  And it wasn’t that ye waire taken in a raid?.  An' whaire came ye by sich money as ye had when I met with you?" 

"As Ee come by money now, Ee did needlecrafte in every spare minute." 

"Aye, well if it warnt stolen?" 

"Nay.  An’ look, it has helped us be more comfortable." 

"Now Ai'm indebted.  Suppose it ware stolen?    But what of it, ye are right, we would have had it hard to fairnish much here.  And whare ware ye thinking of our going?" 

"West, Deerfield 'haps."

"Ye look a pretty piece of a Narragansett."  [Walker who has noticed Mary’s tattoos in silence for some time stares at her face.]

"Me clan . . . " [Mary begins a story of the pretend clan's markings, suggesting a possible relation of one clan member to the more Southern tribes, perhaps captured in a long ago raid.   Husband remarks that a number of em’s captured an’ brought up hair to work, only not for Indians & Mary has a retort].  Walker listens a bit, finally asks,

            “Prud’homme was a protestant?”

“He married to a Huguenot.  So then, ‘e became one hisself.

“Eh, hay dehd? Ye?  A Calvinist?

“ Reckon za’ tis it.  But ee’m not well instructed.”

“Nawht well-structed?  A Ca-lvi-nist?[drawing out the words]

[Mary pauses, looks thoughtful] O’er here, in ze New Country . . .”

“Aye.  Ay grew up in Ainglahnd meself.

“Aye.”  [Mary pauses, finally pulls out some shillings] Will, go ha’ yeself a drink on me next time ye are on an errand at da tavern.  Ee know your indenshur is hard on ye.

[Taking the money]  “Eh?  What is this?  Maire presents from ye?

“Eh?  Well if ye won’ ha’ it, ee will keep it.  Ee was hoping to persuade ye to take us somewhere else when ye indenshur is up.  Ee could as soon save up za money for us to go to da West as give it ta’ ye.”

[Will stuffs the shillings into his waistcoat.  ]  Thaihnk ye for the thought.  Ee will keep this—an’ thahnk on th’aihther.[“think on the other”] Deerfield, ‘haps.  Or Maine?

 

The couple frequent low-life taverns  where Mary gets good at cards as the two work to get ahead, and to leave Boston.

 

During the 1720 Boston smallpox epidemic, the couple with a newborn son move to York County Maine, to the new land between the Kennebec and Saint Croix. Enroute, they stop by to pay homage to the Prayer Wheel Mary constructed during her escape.

 

In a few years, the French and English have returned to fighting.  Fast-forward to King George’s War.  Ultimately, Mary’s husband is brought to Mary and daughter Nancy by neighbors.  The neighbors say that Mary’s husband has said his attackers looked like Indians.  They come by to help, but seem suspicious of Mary’s loyalties as she tends to Will.  Mary’s husband reminds her that they were going to go somewhere freer, where they could just be who they were . . .

 

At the end of 1755 Mary is a widow.  Daughter Nancy, now in her twenties, is staying with Mary during Nancy’s husband’s absence in the French & Indian War.  The two women sit sewing together.  A Massachusetts officer and a soldier knock at Mary's door.  The officer announces Nancy's husband's death in the battle for Fort Duquesne, under General Braddock.  His body is believed left on the field. 

 

Next we move to a view of the bones at “Braddock’s Fields.”

 

Then, fast forward, to 1763.  In Maine, the end of the French-Indian War is announced in the Boston News-letter, the newspaper Mary first got to know in the tavern when tavern guest Josiah Crosby read the news there.

 

Mary reads it now with daughter, Nancy, who is grown.  (Mary's other children are gone—with families of their own; two, Mary and Isabelle, have moved to Ohio).

 

PLOT POINT.

 

Mary and Nancy discuss in English the war's end, and where to go next with both widowed.  Mary begins telling her daughter the story of Mary’s life back in the Louisianne, of her days along the Mississippi River, and her family there.  The two decide that by traveling to what was French territory they can learn more of the battles between the Indians and the English, perhaps; as well as of Mary's father and mother who lived in the French Louisianne.  East Mississippi is new territory now, open to the English colonists, & Nancy, as a war widow, may be able to secure land.

 

There are scenes of the group purchasing tickets & boarding a coach; a fast journey, towns whizzing by in sort of a reverse of Mary’s trip into slavery—the coach stops at Clarke’s Tavern and Ferry, announcing this to the passengers—but Mary, still worried about being re-enslaved, and Nancy wait on board the coach at Clarke’s. Then Mary & her daughter & grandchildren purchase more tickets and board a boat.

 

Mary, Nancy, and the grandchildren change at Charleston (SC), and Mary revisits the harbor where she was first put on a slave ship for the Mass Bay.

 

There are scenes of the sea and the boat, its rocking back and forth, as Mary & her family stand on the deck and discuss the sea with other passengers.

 

Then, a storm ensues, the rocking about becoming a crescendo, then dropping just enough that Mary's boat is able to see and rescue survivors from an injured ship.

 

Then, arrival at the mouth of the Mississippi River, facing New Orleans, which is now Spanish—the ship has been blown off course.   It heads East back to Mobile Bay.  The party travel up the English side of the River by wagon, past woodlands and the many changes along the River.  Near the Mississippi’s mouth, they pass plantations with Negro slaves (absent before); then smaller German and French homesteads further upstream.

 

During the journey, Mary works on a sewing project, and describes the changes in the people and land use as the crew makes its way up the river, for the land has become increasingly cultivated, with European boats on the River, and almost no deer.  A large catfish jumps. Mary notes that “the devil” is still in the river, but there seem to be fewer of them as a whole.   The grandchildren wish for fewer devils but more fish.

 

Ultimately, the party arrives at the Chacta nation, inquires of a French trader after Mary’s native village; learns that much of Mary’s nation has moved to a fort inland.  But Mary and her family are shown to a village located not far from the burnt one, filled with signs of Spanish and English traders as well as of French ones.   Inquiries after Mary's family take place in Choctaw and French, with English subtitles again, and with Mary translating her children's English.  As she asks about her Natchez father, Pushmataha, she is recognized by an elder.

 

The Chacta are not sure of the fate of Mary's father; he fought on the side of the Chacta for a short time after the family’s capture, but then went to back to that of the Natchez—who were to eventually became Chicacha allies in some of the French-English-Chicacha conflicts; but Pushmataha has not been seen for some time. The elders argue that he must have been enslaved by the French during the Natchez rebellion, or else must have been killed in that rebellion.  Nancy then inquires through Mary of her dead husband and several people ponder whether they may have known such a soldier as the daughter's husband, or seen his scalp.  One remembers Mary's grandfather, now dead:   Prud’homme they say went to live for a time among the French again, and also at another village.  News of Mary's mother, the villagers add, has indeed come from Apalachee and Yamasee and Creek, but many of these whom are now in Florida where they live as yat'siminoli,” “free people.”

 

Natchez hut;  Image above from:

 http://www.natchezbelle.org/adams-ind/index.htm Copyright by Ellen Pack!

 

The elders then explain that the Chacta are now in the English country, but under the Spanish King.  The camera focuses on the mounds on which the village is built. The elders chat with Mary's grandchildren.

 

Mary finally asks jokingly if the [Indian] chickens “betrothed” [given in trust] to her in childhood survived Welch's raid:  "They are still mine."  She also asks about the catfish.  The elders offer her some of the local chickens in compensation for hers, no doubt lost one way or another in the raid, and say yes there are fewer catfish, but there are more devils, to the children’s chagrin.

 

Natchez hut; Image above from:

http://www.natchezbelle.org/adams-ind/index.htm Copyright by Ellen Pack!

 

 

Beyond them, traders and Indians make deals, with the exchange of liquor, land, and money; and Chactah debauche in drink. 

 

The sun sinks beneath the early dusk June moonlight, and the camera returns to the river, its remaining catfish, its 'loess zone' wildlife, and the cane breaks in which the Chacta  were famous for hiding.  The camera’s view of the river again ultimately gives way to (1), a small village plaza in which Mary and her family gather with other Chacta; and (2), images of two youthful sweating Shawneo runners carrying wampum necklaces and the ceremonial calumet, this time for this mid-summer 1764 meeting here where White encroachment and shifting boundaries are to be the topic.  The camera scans the entire village, its houses, some now westernized farms, fields, lookouts, and the surrounding miles of cane breaks, then closes in on the cane-torch-lit central plaza in which the village is again celebrating the year�s first corn harvest (Green Corn festival).  Again, the Shawneo runners arrive at the village and are escorted inside.  Again, Mary, and her family and other Chacta are tasting the year’s first corn.  But the Chacta refuse to join the Shawneo alliance, saying that the English are today their friends, and that their land is protected by the Spanish King in any case.

 

The next day’s stickball games, including one in which Mary’s grandchildren try their hand, erupt into drinking and fighting, and Mary and Nancy usher the children away.

 

Mary’s languages and identities shift back and forth, as Nancy, her children and grandma Mary begin discussing where they should settle, whether to remain in Mississippi, or to aim instead for the more northern Ohio territory where the children's cousins are, or to look for Mary’s mother in Florida, or to maybe try Tennessee, where some of Mary’s people crossed through, intermarrying with the people there, according to the legend.  Mary and the children are soon surveying themselves the surrounding land and settlements as the traders and land surveyors assess it in the background.

 

As a Chacta courting dance—lines of women and men, with Mary and Nancy part of the line of women—starts, a document describing the new territory is scrolled against a map of it, and “My City Was Gone” is played as it was in the opening scene.  During the scrolling of the document, the lines of dancers start turning away from each other, stop courting, and look toward the dividing map.

 

The finale thus is a scrolled view of the following document against a map of the Mississippi territory, a map which shows also the edges of surrounding territoriesOhio, the states to the East.   Across this map the “Indian boundary” or dividing line is displayed.  The dividing line soon shifts West to the Mississippi River;  next Tennessee is divided off from the new territory; then the various counties in Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi form across the map in the original order in which they were formed (Washington County is the first county to divide off in Ohio, Mississippi, and Tennessee):

 

"for the year of our Lord 1764 . The aforesaid [was]  calculated for the latitude of 33’ north, and a meridian of 90’ west of Greenwich, England . . . and will serve without any sensible error, for the territory bounded on the West by the Mississippi; on the North by a line to be drawn due east from the mouth of the Yasous to the Chatahouchee river; on the East by the river Chatahouchee; and on the South by the thirty-first degree of North latitude; a part of the Ohio Territory,  as described in the almanac in the year of our Lord 1764 ...[which includes] to wit the territory north-west of the Ohio, St. Vincents, the territory South of the Ohio, and the western parts of Virginia."
 (Adapted from a description of the Ohio Territory
—in http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/Evans?p_action=doc&f_content=image&f_currentpage=2&f_docnum=1&p_nbid=S58Q53HQMTEwNzgzMjYzNS44MzYwNDQ6MTo3OjEyOC4xODY&p_docid=0F2FD32BA4AF5F68&p_docnum=1&f_resultsnum=1&p_queryname=1; and from http://www.legislature.state.al.us/misc/history/constitutions/territorial/ter1.html;)


the tune again:

 

I went back to my country,

but my country was gone,

and the countryside was split down the middle

by a government that had no pride,

and I said,  ‘Oh oh oh oh, where to go?  Ohio.’”

 

A list of major events for the Chacta nation and the Midwestern tribes—from 1763 to removal—scroll after the document.

 

RESOURCES

 

Slavery, Indian Slave Trade.

* Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade.

The Mississippi and the Gulf:  History and Lore, Shipping

* Lohse and Valdez, Ancient Maya Commoners.

* Twain.  Life on the Mississippi

* Miscellaneous online resources (on LaSalle's voyage down Mississippi--especially Nicolas de la Salle's journal of de la Salle’s Mississippi River expedition, Green Corn Festival; Early Plymouth & Mass Bay & New England life & journals);

* Online images of various Indian tribe members, housing; Ethnologue  and other ( "http://www.ethnologue.com/web.asp" "http://www.languagehat.com/mt/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=2102") links on Algonquian and Muscogee language families

* Images of wildlife in Mississippi National Parks & also on the Charles River

* "http://mhcbounty.blogspot.com/"  Mt. Holyoke Bounty Postings  Also http://www.tallshipbounty.org/main.html 

Choctaw.

* Blanchard.  The Mississippi Choctaws at Play:  The Serious Side of Leisure.  (Stickball.  Kin.  Cross-clan and cross-village relations.)

* Mould.  Choctaw Prophecy.  (Prophecies; how prophecies are made.)

French and Indian War, Shawnee, New England and Its Taverns.

* Belue.  The Hunters of Kentucky.  (The French and Indian War; the Shawneeo; square dancing.)

* The Bloody war for the Ohio Territory http://www.tolatsga.org/shaw.html 

* Pond, Peter.  Edited by Gates.  "The Narrative of Peter Pond."  In Five Fur Traders of the Northwest.  (French-Indian War; soldier’s life; New England dialect)

Sex in Middlesex (gossip, but its about 50+ years earlier than action)

* Salinger.  Taverns and Drinking in Early America.

Life as Captive.

* Beer, The Nazi Officer's Wife (to get a feel for life in hiding)

* Jemison, Mary.  Retold by Seaver.  Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison. Ed. Namias. Life after a raid as a captive and an adopted member of a new family.

 

& More

 

 

 

 

 

 





[1] The star is a young woman (mostly; though initially a girl; and ultimately an old woman) named Mary AKA Marie Prud’homme, AKA Natoma, the daughter of a mixed-blood Choctaw woman and a lower-caste (commoner, "miche miche quipy"--like an "untouchable"almost but not quite; or a serf) Natchez with excellent fighting skills.  Mary's birth date is circa 1700-1701.   She is from the area that is now Vicksburg Mississippi, though the best locations to shoot her childhood home might be the Homochito and Delta National forests.  A possible lead actress might be Tamara Podemski whom I’ve contacted—shown above (at http://www.podemskichicks.com/ http://www.podemskichicks.com/tamara.html; see also http://www.tamarapodemski.com/ ).   (It is still undecided as to who will play Natoma Marie as a girl, 11-12, and whether the same person will play both the young adult Mary and Mary at past forty and then sixty).  Other characters include:  (1), Natoma Marie's Metis mother; (2), her French grandfather Prud’homme;* (3-7), Mary’s mother’s half-sister Isabelle, with her son, infant, and mother; also the King of Natoma Marie's village—Marie’s mother's brother or cousin); (8-9), two Shawnee runners; (10-12), the traders Johns and Davies, and their pack carrying servant; (13-14), traders Cochron and Jordan, the latter of whom runs a tavern, both avowed enemies of the Wright faction of traders;  (15), Mrs. Harris who runs Harris’s tavern in Charleston, SC; (16), her slave and helper the Fulani woman Sallie; (17), Captain Lamb, (18), Lamb’s Negro slave; (19-23), the Clarke family (Mrs. Ann Clarke, Mr. John Clarke, both in their mid to late forties; the Clarke’s teenaged daughter Susan; the Clarke’s grown son John/James, and his wife Martha) whom Natoma works for; (24-40 ), various tavern guests and visitors, including farmer Josiah Crosby, his youthful Sokoki servant, Joseph, Josiah’s friend Sam Lothrop, Lothrop’s wife Abigail, a well-to-do gentleman named Winslow, Mr. and Mrs. Hatch—a young couple from Tolland, several other guests, three Dedham Nipmuc women who sell sweetgrass baskets, the local tippling man, the constable, the coach driver’s young helper who sells the newspaper; (41), Rebecca a middle-aged Nipmuc herb doctor enslaved as a child after King Phillip’s War; (42) the Scotch-Irish immigrant to the Mass Bay Mary marries-- Mr. William Walker, born in Ireland circa 1690; (43), Boston merchant Mrs. Faith Savage Waldo who imports cloth from England; (44), Mary’s daughter Nancy Walker-? (who is 1/8 Choctaw; 1/4 Natchez; 1/8 French; 1/2 English); and (45- ), several of Mary’s grandchildren (who are 3/4 English 'blood').  There are a few other characters as well.



 

* Based on a real-life trader, Cochran.

+ Imagined and partly based on real-life trader Jordine.

 

 

[2] Prud’homme was a hunter and gun merchant who got lost in 1681 or 1682 on Chicacha territory (there were no Chactah at the time apparently; one theory is that the Chactah split off during competition between the English and French for allies and slaves) on de la Salle’s expedition down the Mississippi.  Prud’homme had a fort built and named after him during the search that ensued in his absence, Fort Prud’homme.  He turned up presumably with no food in his belly after ten days and apparently remained in the region [to help man Ft. Prud’homme?] rather than returning with de la Salle.  I’ve imagined him marrying with two local women during his stay, and working as a trader.

 

 

[3] Normally Mary would stay with her clan’s village, with her mother and grandfather, but she has asked to go to the Natchez Village too to play stickball. 

 

 

[4] A character I’ve imagined to be a son or relative of an original late 17th C smuggler of Carolina goods, Captain Lamb.