A Grandfather's Tale: Chapter 10, MERCHANT DECEASED


A GRANDFATHER'S TALE: LIVERPOOL SLAVE MERCHANT WILLIAM BOLDEN 1730-1800


Chapter Ten:  MERCHANT DECEASED

A hard man, my father. A Lancashire man. No fool.
When Uncle Edward died in 1750, my mother expected us to move back to the Ellel farm. Father would have none of it. He scorned grandfather Edward, and great-grandfather Edward before him. They were "soft in t' heed" for grafting hard all their lives and nothing to show for it at the end. Only a couple of skinny cows "'n brokit spade".
The Ellel tenancy was not really a farm at all in father's mind. Just a lifetime of unrewarding toil that was passed on to the next of kin. A poor thing, of mud and muck and rotten mortar. 
He was William Bolden, Freeman and Master Tanner of the Borough of Lancaster. He had made something of himself and he wasn't about to go backwards.

Father stayed silent before my mother's chatter for weeks. Finally, when he'd had enough of her asking, he spoke his mind.

"Hush, hen!"
We all hushed. A man of few words. And a very strong forearm.
"Thee'll no' mek owt fra' nowt".
Ellel was not an asset from which good management could produce a profit. It was only an obligation to pay rent and barely eat besides.
"You'll not make anything from nothing", my father said. And he was right. Sentiment has no place when it comes to earning our daily bread. A hard head is worth more than a soft one.

But the Idea of farming land in a big way. That Idea is with me still.

Fields that are drained, with proper stone-walling and trimmed hedges. Fat cattle that thrive, that put on meat and do not waste in winter. A house that is not falling down, with a new dairy and calf-byres to match. All roofed in slate and built of good grey-stane.
It is not flother and foolishness to dream such dreams. Not when a merchant becomes a man of means.

The King is gone mad;
Pitt is no friend to the Guinea trade.
Virginia is gone mad;
Their debts to us are still unpaid.
France is gone mad;
Louis' head chopped off by the Maid.
Sparling is gone mad;
One more ship to the Coast he said.

"Slaves perished with the ship"
 The burden of the Blundell
Four-hundred-and-forty-three Burthens
Shackled below in chains 
Hatches lashed down for the rains
So many Black faces distorted through swirling waters of Atlantic green

And Sophie, who died too young,
And the Boy, whose hair is now silver.

My sister Alice sits with me through the long dark days of my Melancholy.
Looking out over the Parade to the Irish Sea and beyond.
Over rolling mountains of cold wet waste to the Tidewater.
To the warm flatness of a barely flowing James.
Spanish Moss overhanging dark inlets, secretive and stagnant.
With tumbledown timber warehouses sinking slowly into the mud, and wharves of pine logs reaching out into the channel, and rumbling round hogsheads that defy the slave-driver's swearing and plunge into the shallows.
I am much affected by false memories that steal my sleep. Of leaving the Hundred without the Boy. The entire trip downriver I am troubled by a Hollowness that hurts.
Am I not a Man? Has not a Merchant hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick us, do we not bleed? Too late in the knowing, I bleed.

On my better days, the Boy carries me from the bed to the cane chair that sits by the window. Or in the night when I cannot find rest.
Still clear nights are best. The sea glows. The white surf shines. Lines of brilliance draw my eyes into a tireless pattern of ebb and flow. She never stops, the sea. Always moving. Ever patient. Eating into the sand-dunes or feeding them back up again. It is all the same to her. A ceaseless loop, constantly lapping at the edges of our world. Waiting for us. Knowing we will succumb to her wooing, venturing out onto her beguiling smoothness, answering the call of the Siren of Profit.
It is the sea who decides our fate. Carelessly, as if playing a harmless children's game. Luring us on, inviting us to wager on her mood. Will it be fair winds and prosperous sailing? Or will she tire of her Sport and swallow us whole?
The great Mistress of our destiny. Feeling her way towards us with limitless appetite. There is no escaping her majesty, her will, her victory. The merchant is but her Suitor, forever smitten.

There was a storm here. I am not sure when. But this winter, I think. A terrific Gale that lashed the hotel and forced the innkeeper to close the shutters for fear it would blow the windows in. My room was very dark. It felt like I was confined below decks again, with the Tempest raging outside, trying to destroy the ship. Helpless and alone. In the midst of the crew similarly shivering and sweating in terror, completely alone.
It blew itself out in a day and two nights, but not before the Brothers was driven aground off the beach here. A local vessel, humble enough with its cargo of pease. The Boy counted nine bodies washed up on Blackpool's sands. Another five were swept out to sea.

"The Merchants of the earth which were made rich by their merchandise of gold and silver, of fine linens and scarlet stuff, of scented wood and articles of ivory, of objects of costly wood and brass and iron, and of slaves, the bodies and souls of men...And every shipmaster and all the company in ships, sailors and as many as ply their trade and had ships in the sea, which were made rich by their cargoes...Alas and Alas...For in one hour so great riches is come to nought...For in one single moment all has become desolate."

The Ocean has carried me.
She has borne my goods.
The Ocean has brought me glad tidings.
She has brought me bad.
Sand, seaweed and skulls.
Tar barrels and ships' bones.
She has thrown up everything that made me.
The refuse of the Ocean floor.
My life's leavings.

I need to see the Sea each day.
Each day I must see the Sea.
Pull back the curtains.
Tear down the gauze.
Throw open the shutters.
Let me sea the Sea today.


     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

"He is gone, Madam".

"You are sure, Boy?"

"Yes, Madam".

Alice stood up from the chair, her needlework falling unheeded to the floor.
She turned, smoothed her skirts with a flourish, and swept from the room.
There was much to be done, and quickly too. 

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