September 14–Today–250 Years Ago

Americanism Redux

September 14, 250 years ago today

She lay in bed with him next to her. Nine years in love. Nine years making a home. Besides their life together they’d made life further at least twice, their two daughters. They call her Mama, which she is. They call him Papa, which he is. But Mama and Papa are not husband and wife. Maybe someday, maybe sometime, but not now.

Same bed, same room, same house, same land.

Before daylight, Abigail Curry stares at the ceiling of their cabin. Her mate—the father of the girls—is still asleep. Abigail is careful with her touch. Yes, it’s been more than a decade, almost two decades in fact, but the image in her head is still fresh. And she knows well, all too well, that the image burns like a red-hot iron in his mind. So, when she moves toward him, she is gentle.

Abigail shudders to think of the first time she saw them.

That was when she’d seen him without his shirt on. Six-feet four inches tall, weighing in at over two hundred pounds, rippling muscles, as firm as a tree trunk. That’s not the reason for the shuddering.

He turned away from her and she saw the sight.

Red scars tracked across his back. Scars crisscrossed. Scars over scars. Scars by themselves, tracing nowhere.

When they talked about it, when he told her the story, Abigail noticed an almost undetectable quaking, deep down inside him. A tremor. They were whipping him still.

Daniel Morgan described what had happened. He had joined as a wagon-driver back in ’55, at the start of the French and Indian War, or what should have been called World War One because it happened on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, in the rim of the Indian Ocean, and beyond the Mediterranean Sea.

Dan had served with Colonel George Washington in the colonial unit of Virginia men, fighting as British patriots against French soldiers, French-Canadian soldiers, and French-Canadian-allied Native soldiers. The Virginia men fought under the authority and control of the British Army, subject to the orders and discipline of the Redcoats.

Dan had gotten into an argument with a British officer, Dan’s superior in the imperial military hierarchy. As a colonist and a colonial soldier, Dan lost. The Redcoat officer declared Dan would be whipped, upwards of five hundred times if he lived as the lashings tore into his back.

Skin flew off him in bits. Blood mixed with sweat and streaked down his back, slice to slice to slice. The leather strips darkened, stiffened, hardened as they were drawn away from the roiling surface and returned with lightning speed, flung time and time and time again to the count of a half-thousand.

The war stopped in 1763 with British victory in the Treaty of Paris.

The whipping never stopped in the mind of Daniel Morgan on his land in the Virginia woods. Wherever he walks, wherever he stops, wherever he stands, an invisible quaking waits inside.

Abigail loves Dan. She has helped him learn to read and do math. She has helped him generally improve his social manner and his comfort in groups. She continues to help him in the raising of their two daughters and the operation of two hundred acres of land near Winchester village, Frederick County, Virginia colony.

Ten black people also live on the two hundred acres. Enslaved by Dan and Abigail, they live a life deep in the Virginia woods. They share with Dan and Abigail more than is known, including memories under the cloth, beneath the clothing, alive inside.

Daniel Morgan


Across Virginia’s southern border, into North Carolina, an effort to establish the Church of England as the colony’s official religious entity has collapsed. Supporters of the Church of England in the colony admit it won’t happen. To their displeasure, Christian Baptists and Methodists will likely continue to spread in the backwoods of the Carolinas and Virginia.

To people like Abigail Curry and Daniel Morgan, the Church of England embodies politics as much as religion. It symbolizes authority rooted in English life and English history. They see the Church of England as upholding the law and power that resides in the imperial government. They will view the church with unfailing suspicion. For them, it’s not too far a leap to connect the scars on Dan’s back to the trappings in Anglican sanctuaries.

And to the ten black people living on the two hundred acres, church and politics aren’t the issues. It’s the Book. Stories from the Bible, especially Exodus and Moses, sustain them in labor, in private time, in darkness.


For You Now

The whip is the center.

Everything about Dan Morgan’s experience runs through that whip. Events, decisions, actions, and more, the entirety of things will be seen through the filter of the whip. Abigail will need to be cognizant of it, as well. She’s trying to modify him in a world where he wants to react to the whip.

The challenge will be whether or not he can channel his emotions and recollections about the whip. He could easily veer into an unending desire for revenge and retribution. Every chance for him to exert power against those who he believes have whipped him—in actuality or otherwise—is a choice between punishment and something more positive. He can quench a bloodthirst or he can step forward. He can’t do both. I’ll tell you now that we will see him, and Abigail, again.

The same thing is true for the ten enslaved people on Morgan’s land. They know what the whip means probably better than Morgan. It’s critical to recognize that they know it differently, too. Morgan’s whipping is a one-time occurrence; the probability of whipping for them can come at anytime depending on the circumstance and who is involved. We don’t know how Abigail and Daniel conducted themselves as enslavers. Part of me tends to think he would have avoided doing to them what was done to him. Possibly, he may have refused to own a whip. That’s only a guess. Finally, Morgan left the spaces where the whipping was done to him—the reach of the British Army—but the ten black people on his land don’t have anywhere else to go. They have to escape to a distant place.

Scars on the back, the hand holds the whip.


A memory can be so explosive that its fuse is lit with the slightest spark. How can we channel ourselves, mold ourselves toward a better end, the way Abigail hoped she was doing with Dan?