Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

A Dutch Family in the Revolution

What is now the State of New York was first settled by people from Holland who spoke the Dutch language. New York afterward became an English colony, but the Dutch settlers and their descendants still spoke the language of Holland, at the time of the American Revolution.

In Flatbush, which is now a part of Brooklyn, was a family that spoke the Dutch language, while they were true Americans in feeling. When the British landed on Long Island, they got ready to leave the town. The horses were hitched to the wagon, and such things as were thought most valuable were put in. The first thing they put into the wagon was the great Dutch Bible with heavy brass clasps. A tall clock was also carefully lifted into the wagon. Then clothing and other things followed.

The father of the family told the two faithful negro men, Caesar and his son Mink, how to take care of things. Femmetia, the most active of the daughters, had the whip in her hand, and, as the sound of firing was coming nearer and nearer, she tapped the horses on their ears, and the family dashed away to the house of a cousin who lived beyond the region where the fight was to be.

That evening Femmetia helped her father, who was an invalid, to climb to the top of a little hill from which they could see a fire raging in the village of Flatbush. The direction of the fire showed the father and daughter that it was their own house which was burning.

When the fight was over, General Washington's troops had been driven from Long Island. The good Dutch family went back and found their house burned. They moved into another house, whose owner was still away, and then began to build a new house. The mother bought some boards with what money she had saved, but she could not get any nails. In that day nails were not made by machinery, as they are now. Each nail had to be hammered out separately by a blacksmith. Nails made in this way cost a great deal of money.

There was but one way to do. Femmetia and her sister had to find nails by raking over the ashes of the old house. Some of these nails were crooked, and they had to be hammered to make them straight enough to use.

Some American officers had been made prisoners at the battle of Long Island. They were allowed to go about the village after having given their word not to go farther. They liked to help the girls find nails in the ashes, and hammer them straight on the stones. Other young girls came to help them, so that there was a party of young people talking, joking, laughing, and digging in the ashes, every day. It was fun for all of them. There were not boards enough to finish the house. The room in which the two sisters slept was upstairs. It had but half a floor. Where the rest of the floor should have been were only bare beams.

Building Party


One night the negro woman, whose name was Dian, came into the room below, and called Femmetia. She told her that the British soldiers had come into the barn, and that they would soon take away what were left of the chickens.

"You jes' come down." said Dian to Femmetia. So the old slave and the young girl went out together. They carried a gun and a broomstick. The moon was shining. They took great pains not to let the soldiers see them. First they dodged behind a great walnut tree. Then, when they were sure the soldiers did not see them, they ran behind the corncrib. Their next march brought them behind the wagon house, and then they slipped into the dark shadow of the barn.

Dian thrust the rifle through a hole in the side door of the barn. At the same moment the bold Femmetia threw a stone which made the soldiers look round. There was moonlight enough for them to see the muzzle of the gun coming through the door as though it were ready to fire at them. They ran away in great haste, and left the chickens behind.

The silver plate and other valuable things were buried under the hearth in the house. A lady in a neighboring house hid her gold coins in the middle of a great round ball of a pincushion. Such ball pincushions were worn by some of the Dutch women at that time. They hung them at their sides, tied by a bit of ribbon. A party of English soldiers came into this lady's house. They were much amused to see this ball at the lady's side. One of them rudely cut the ribbon with his sword, and then the soldiers played ball with the cushion. It was sent here and there about the room. Twice it fell into the ashes.

The woman who owned it expected that it would be torn, and all her gold would spill out, but she went on with her work. If she had shown any anxiety about the ball, the soldiers might have thought to look for her money in the cushion. At last they gave it back to her, much-soiled, but holding its treasures safe.