Restive Souls — Web Story

Songs of Narragansett: The Black Liberation of Newport, Part 1

Charles Bastille
Restive Souls
7 min readAug 12, 2020

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This story is a web-based short story set within the timeline of my upcoming novel, Restive Souls. It is distinct from the novel itself.

July 4, 1777

Occramer Marycoo felt a tear fill the corner of his eye when he saw the decapitated corpse hanging from the church bell tower. The body had been burned and reduced to a torso, the limbs and head severed, before becoming this sacrilege next to the tower’s bells, which the fiends had rigged to ring in order to draw attention to their heathen act. The tower’s conjuratory, normally a place for religious observance, had become a place to observe mankind’s most ghoulish instincts.

Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash
Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash

It was particularly galling to Occramer, a man of music, whose compositions were played in this very building.

Occramer ran into the church and seized a young boy by the shoulders as he breathlessly asked, “Where is Reverend Hopkins?”

The boy was scratched with a wide, purple bruise under his left eye. “I dunno,” he responded in a frightened voice, “I just got me out of here in time. There were ten of ’em at least, carrying that body up there,” and he looked up.

Occramer let go and was about to run up to the bell tower when the boy continued, “and Mister?”

Occramer looked at the boy, who was glancing around like a bird.

“People say there’s trouble over in the Narragansett. That’s why this is,” and the boy looked to the ceiling as if the body was buried inside the rafters.

“Uh-huh. Trouble for us, or trouble for them?”

“Them, sir.”

“That explains the bell tower.”

The boy nodded fitfully.

“Who told you this, son?”

“The necromancer.”

“Wilkinson? He dead.”

“No sir I saw him plain as day. Call himself The Friend or some such.”

Occramer shook his head in disbelief but didn’t pursue the matter.

“Says there’s Hessians, too, and rebel slaves, coming to rout the Newport slaver ships.”

Occramer thought the slave ships were all out of port but he wasn’t sure. This meant the rebel slaves were aiming to take the port. “This place ain’t safe for you. Where’s your momma at?”

“Out in the fields.”

“In the middle of all that?”

The boy nodded. Occramer wondered how’d she fare. “And your daddy?”. The boy shook his head in a way that told Occramer his father had died before any of this. Occramer sighed and cursed and took the boy by his elbow. “We can’t be stayin’ here.”

“You think they’ll be back?”

“I do. And they’ll bring whatever they see fit to fight off those Hessians.”

“Hessians are well-stocked sir.”

Image credit: unknown author / Public domain
Image credit: unknown author / Public domain

They were. And well-trained. Their good guns and good Prussian training made Occramer glad they were turning toward the anti-slaver cause. He was surprised, too, since they were mercenaries.

He yanked the boy’s elbow, uncertain where to take him. The boy was about nine, small, wiry, but Occramer could see he was tough enough to handle what might be coming.

He had to find a way to help the boy until his mother came for him, but he was without any ideas on how to do so, or when she ever might be able to get across the water to her son. If Hessians were helping the slaves then there could be little doubt that they were going to try to take the port.

The Hessians most likely didn’t know that slaves would be trying to take the port for themselves, not for the King, and not for the Prussian mercenaries. He doubted the Hessians much cared. They were paid by the Crown to help stave off the rebellion, and they’d head home after that. The more ports Occramer’s people controlled, the better the chances the Crown would keep its promises after winning the war.

If the necromancer (or the man impersonating him) wasn’t at his base in Kingston, this could mean that the rebel slaves were approaching Newport. Occramer wanted information, like how many ships would be helping them cross the waters into the port, what kind of ships, who was driving them, so many questions.

With a boy afoot, he couldn’t imagine a way to answer them. Loyalists for the Crown had forced out most colonial rebels, so he thought any ships transporting what amounted to armed mariners would be safe for them, but not for the boy’s mother. Unless he could find a safe haven for the boy, he’d be sitting this one out.

“I can fight, sir,” said the boy as if reading his mind. “I got me a hunting knife the size of your feet.”

Occramer smiled at that. “On your person?”

“Well no sir. At home. I keep it there to protect my momma.”

Occramer nodded. “What’s your name?”

“Hesed, sir. Hesed Williamson.”

Occramer tipped the brim of his worn brown wide-brimmed floppy hat. “Occramer Marycoo. Where you stayin’, Hesed? You in that Hopkins Hall near the port with the rest of them boys ain’t ya’?”

Hesed nodded slowly with a guilty face. “But how’d you know?”

“I know your mama ain’t flyin’ over to them fields like some bird in the sky every crack of the mornin’,” Occramer chuckled. “You been separated how long now from your mama?”

Hesed shrugged his shoulders.

“And that knife, that ain’t for protectin’ your mama is it.”

Another shrug.

“It’s okay. Gives me an idea though. Hopkins ain’t gonna like it none.” Samuel Hopkins had set up a house that all the slaves and freed men knew as a sanctuary from the white devils trying to capture them.

Hesed led Occramer to the boarding house, which was actually a series of several longhouses within hailing distance of the port itself, a dangerous proposition, Occramer knew, but at this point possibly no more dangerous than much else.

When they arrived, Occramer saw, as he expected, that most of the boys were barely older than Hesed. “God forgive me,” he said, and he took Hesed along and knocked on doors and rounded up recruits. Anyone older than 15 or so was suitable in Occramer’s eyes. He himself had crossed the Atlantic in a pile of shit and bodies at the age of 14. They could do this, and they were needed to do this.

The Liberation of Newport (1777)
The Liberation of Newport (1777)

He didn’t have time to train a bunch of boys to fight, so he just tested them as best he knew how. Each time a boy came out of a house, Occramer slapped him hard to gauge a reaction. If the boy showed a quick defensive response, Occramer told him what was up and what had to be done.

After he was done with each boy, the boy was sent to a centrally located house in the middle of the rows so that the next boy didn’t see what was coming. It wasn’t much of a test, and it sure wasn’t training, but it would have to do.

Little did he know that in time, his little militia would be called The Slap Boy Crew, renowned for playing a role in the historic liberation of Newport and turning the tide of the Colonial Rebellion.

End Part 1. Follow this publication, or, better yet, subscribe to my newsletter to be notified when Part 2 is published.

Note: Occramer Marycoo was actually known to our world as Newport Gardner. This was a slave name, a mashup consisting of the name of the wealthy man who owned him, Caleb Gardner, before he was able to buy his freedom and the town they lived in, Newport. You can read more about the real Occrammer here. Obviously, what you have read about him in this story is fiction. Realistically, he probably would have found a way home, back to Africa, even in a world in which slavery ended earlier, because that was his dream. But fiction needs heroes, and he becomes one in Restive Souls.

This story was made possible by the research of others. All I did was read their work, and let the story write itself:

The Lives of the Enslaved in Colonial Newport and In Colonial Rhode Island, the Enslaved Resisted by Fred Zilian
https://www.slavevoyages.org/
http://slavenorth.com/rhodeisland.htm by Douglas Harper
From Africa to Newport and Back — Musician Occramer Marycoo’s Incredible Journey by the New England Historical Society

This is a part of the Restive Souls Series, a web-only utopian alternative history series.

We live in a dystopian world, so I’m offering up this utopian fiction via the novel-in-progress, Restive Souls, to reflect my belief that the empowerment of Blacks and other people of color will lead us to a better world. This story and others here are not part of the book.

To be notified of the novel’s release and/or progress, subscribe to my newsletter:

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Charles Bastille
Restive Souls

Author of MagicLand & Psalm of Vampires. Follow me on BlueSky: https://bsky.app/profile/charlesbastille.bsky.social. All stories © 2020-24 by Charles Bastille