Thursday, 13 October 2016

Brooklyn and the Slad Brook Conjoined Historically and Inter-Textually

Brooklyn and the Slad Brook Conjoined Historically and Inter-Textually

I remember so well that day at Wallbridge in Stroud,
Seeing the man whose name I do not know,
Yet with whom I always share the time of day
Whenever our paths cross in the street;
He was leaning on the canal bridge,
Gazing out over the waters,
Beyond the information board
Which portrays Stroud Scarlet,
Stretched out on tenterhooks
In Rodborough Fields;
He was staring at the Cainscross Road,
Where the Slad Brook enters the canal -
In a reverie about the old brewery, I thought -
‘Remembering the smell of the beer?’ I asked;
‘No, I’m just thinking about all of these cars,
Where they all comin’ from, and where they all goin’ to?’

I thought of him, the canal, the cars and the picture today,
When striding out into New York City;
Some of that Stroud Scarlet stretched out in Rodborough Fields
Might well have ended up in New York,
Nearly two hundred and fifty years ago,
A spreading splash of crimson on Brooklyn Heights;
It had already been traded with the Iroquois,
A century before that,
And some slaves south of the Mason-Dixon Line
Would have been bought with Stroud Scarlet back in Africa;

Back home, locals might well have gathered to gaze and chat on the bridge,
Talking of the war in America,
And of the new Stroudwater Navigation,
Watching the coaches and the Severn trows,
Wondering where they all comin’ from,
And where they all goin’ to;

Charles Mason, of the Mason-Dixon Line,
Was born back home:Wear Farm, Oakridge Lynch:
Baptized at Sapperton Church, May Day 1728;
Thomas Pynchon imagined him over at Randwick,
Watching a cheese rolling, admiring Susannah Peach,
Dreaming of the wealth in her father’s Minchinhampton house -
Samuel Peach, ‘a growing Power within the East India Company’;
But Charles met and fell in love with Rebekah –
‘he went toppling on to the grass …
As he arose, holding his head … her Voice first reached him.
“Were it Night –time, Sir, I’d say you were at Star-Gazing.”
Her looks had him stupefied’,
There near ‘The towns around the Golden Valley’,
‘The precise Geography of the Water-shed was now primary,-
where Races might go, for Wheels to be driven and Workshops
to be run from them… ‘twas like coming before the Final Judge’,

Which is why whilst Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were making their line,
Twixt Pennsylvania and Maryland,
Manufacturers and surveyors and the traders of Stroudwater
Were dreaming of a line, a cut and an inland navigation,
Stretching from the Severn at Framilode, and so on to Stroud;

But in the year when General Wolfe and his Stroud Scarlet troops
Stormed the heights of Quebec,
Mason’s first wife, died:
A memorial tablet stands upon a tombstone at Sapperton,
To recall her life,
When a few short years before,
Colonel Wolfe had ridden down striking weavers
in the valleys around Horsley and Stroud,
And even though he professed some sympathy for their plight:
“The people are so oppressed, so poor and so wretched,
that they will, perhaps, hazard a knock on the pate for bread and clothes… the poor half-starved weavers…beg about the country for food…the masters have beat down their wages too low to live upon,
and I believe it is a just complaint”,
He was in charge of six companies of foot soldiers
Enough “to beat the mob of all England”;
He reported that
” Those who are most oppressed have seized the tools
and broke the looms of others who would work if they could”.
And so he obediently awaited orders
from “the magistrates to use our weapons against them” –
and so, the production of Stroud Scarlet resumed,
Laid out on tenterhooks, in that picture down by the canal,
Ready for ‘The American War of Independence’,
 ‘The American Revolution’ -
For in 1775, General Howe stiffened Loyalist New York’s resolve
With over 30,000 soldiers:
Stroud Scarlet troops landing at Staten Island and Long Island;
Ready for George Washington’s march south from Boston,
To the tip of Manhattan, across the East River, to Long Island,
And Brooklyn Heights;

Washington was eventually forced to retreat
After the redcoats’ stealthy advance up what is now Park Slope,
(With just one solitary victory to his name, at Harlem Heights),
Back across the East River, once more into Manhattan;
Then further along roads on the west bank,
Across the Hudson River to reach New Jersey,
Across the Delaware, and so into Pennsylvania;
The British army and Stroud Scarlet would occupy New York
For the rest of the conflict,
But it was a hollow victory:
The British army would depart in ignominy,
Seven years later, on November 25th 1783;

Five more years would pass,
Until King George the Third would lose his mind,
The year in which he would start talking to the trees,
Lamenting ‘The loss of my Colonies’,
The year in which he visited the locks at Wallbridge,
And the tunnel at Sapperton,
The year before the French Revolution
Would subsequently lead to more war,
More tenterhooks,
And more Stroud Scarlet,
And yet more crimson spilt:
Families on tenterhooks,
Hoping husbands, sons and brothers would return,
Uninjured, in one piece
(Rather than forced to beg in tattered red),
To Stroud, its looms, its springs, its brooks and streams,
Its scarlet, and its crimson,
Up there in Rodborough Fields,
Above the Slad Brook,
Unaware of the fate of Nathan Hale,
A generation before,
Arrested in Queens as a spy,
‘Hanged by the redcoats’
In Manhattan in 1776, aged twenty-one:
‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country’:
The Slad Brook and Brooklyn conjoined.

Places to visit:
Saint Paul’s Church, downtown; Morris-Jumel Mansion, uptown;
Rivington Street, named after a Loyalist printer who acted as a spy for Washington and as a double-agent;
MacDougal Street, named after Alexander MacDougal, who founded the New York Sons of Liberty; Hannah MacDougal, his wife, led a Broadway march against his imprisonment for his ‘To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York’;
Murray Hill , remembers Robert Murray and his Wall Street shipping company and Murray’s Wharf, but even more his wife, Mary, who detained British officers with a fine meal, thus allowing American troops to escape pursuit;
Francis Lewis Boulevard – Mr Lewis, the merchant, signed the Declaration of Independence as a representative of New York. The Declaration was declaimed on July 9th 1776, in what is now City Hall Park.

It is interesting to reflect on the fact that New York is named after James, Duke of York (after the Dutch gave up ‘New Amsterdam’). The Duke, the future King James the Second, was a leading light in the Royal African Company. So much so, that slaves were branded DY before the middle passage to the Americas and the West Indies. There seems to be an amnesia about this: King’s County; Queen’s County; Prince Street … New York …

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