No one ever means to fall in love; it just happens. Cliché, I know. In all my years roaming the earth, I was always under the assumption that it would never happen to me. But in all those years, I have learned never to assume.
I was born in New Town, Pennsylvania in 1757. I was born a free black man, which didn’t mean much in the mid-eighteenth century. If anything, I had to be more careful. Sometimes, I thought that white men only gave privileges so that they could take them away one day. I guess that’s true of anyone in power.
I was luckier that most though. My mother died in childbirth, and I was taken in by a peaceful Quaker family. This would not have been the case for most black men, but my mother was white and as long as I kept my mouth shut and worked hard, folks would look past my less-than-white skin. By look past, I mean it was as if I didn’t exist at all.
I came of age during a time when revolution was stirring and a new nation was blooming. I longed to be a part of the action, but my adoptive family frowned on violence. They weren’t loyalists, but many of the Quaker families in the area were. They didn’t believe in British rule; they just didn’t want to rock the boat.
Shortly after my eighteenth birthday, news reached us that the war had begun. British troops had attacked colonists in Massachusetts. More importantly, the colonists fought back that day. Tensions were high, and despite my Quaker upbringing and my family’s objections, I wanted to be a part of the revolution. I was one of those foolish enough to believe that freedom from the British would mean freedom for all.
That summer, I joined the associators when they regrouped. It felt good to be involved in the cause, however, I was merely enlisted as the help. All anyone seemed to do was talk while I was busy serving these talking men. I couldn’t have been farther away from the action. This didn’t stop my family from wanting nothing to do with me.
A year went by, and then excitement came to New Town. General Washington made his headquarters in town after a battle at Trenton. Riding on the coattails of victory and finally seeing my opportunity to join the war on the frontlines, I officially enlisted and traveled with Washington’s men to Morristown for the winter.
My three years in the continental army were both exhilarating and disappointing. I had many close calls and almost lost my life to smallpox. I returned home to New Town a changed and defeated man. The excitement I once craved left a bitter taste in my soul. I had seen death and brought death to many, and there was nothing exciting about either.
I got a job on a farm outside town and decided that my Quaker upbringing hadn’t been all that bad. It wasn’t peace with the world that I needed, but rather peace with myself. As it turns out, personal wars can be endless and all-consuming too.
Read the full story in Not My Type, which goes on sale June 9th!