Bound and gagged as I was, in the back of the wagon, I had nothing to do but think. And I had plenty of time for that. It was barely dawn when we left Oneida, and we were still traveling when the sun was high in the sky.
Our course was north and west, was all I could surmise; beyond that, I had no idea where we were. I knew, by now, the way that Jack thought, and I knew she would flee as far away from Oneida and as far away from the canal as she possibly could. The exact destination would probably be determined by Jack’s armed guards—whoever they may be. No doubt the wagon belonged to one of them.
The road was bumpy, made all the more discomforting by my inability to cushion myself or hold on to anything sturdy. My first thought was prayer—I would pray for a short ride on a smooth road; I would pray that, upon arriving at our destination, my captors would do me no more harm. I had, after all, been but recently one of God’s perfect Community. Prayer would be the first thought of anyone at Oneida who found themselves in a similar situation.
But, truth be told, I hadn’t the faith to finish a prayer; not even the Lord’s Prayer which I knew by heart in two languages. At the Oneida Community, I had attended all the services, followed all the doctrines; was obedient to a fault, surrendering my will to the common good. I had become an exemplary member of the community, and no one would doubt my righteousness. But I had fooled them all, even fooled myself; for I had never been part of God’s Kingdom, not really, I had only mouthed the words and aped the actions of the truly righteous. I had been a model follower of Dr. Noyes, but it had not been for the sake of my soul, it had been for worldly rewards. The sexual freedom, of course, was rewarding, but it was the peace, that heavenly peace, the peace that I had not known since leaving Salem, that was the true reward. I would have done most anything they asked to maintain that peace. And now away from the Community, I had no desire to talk to God, even to beg for my sorry hide. I truly was among the damned and deserved all that I had gotten.
That doesn’t mean I was not angry when the wagon finally came to a stop that sunny afternoon. Jack came around to the back of the wagon and stood facing me, arms akimbo.
“Can I take the gag off ya now, Pratt or are you gonna start shoutin’?”
I shook my head to indicate that I wouldn’t shout. Jack united the gag and removed it from my mouth.
Through clenched teeth, suppressing my desire to scream, I said, “Jack, what the hell are you doing to me?”
“I told you, I broke you out of jail.”
“You bring me nothing but hardship, Jack, in ways I never could have imagined.”
“You’ll thank me someday, Pratt. Now, if I untie your arms and legs will you promise not to fight?”
“When you untie me, Jack, I’ll murder you, I’ll strangle you.”
Jack just nodded. “I have some business to take care of Pratt, so I’m going to leave you here.” She said, then raised the gag so I could see it. “Do I need to put this back on ya?”
“Untie me now,” I shouted, “so I can cut your Goddamn heart out!”
“So be it.” She said and tied the gag back around my mouth.
Jack went away for about three-quarters of an hour, and I cooled down during that time. I had no intention of fighting her and shouting did nothing further my cause. I decided to cooperate when she returned.
She stood at the rear of the wagon once again and said, “We’re goin’ into this tavern for some food and drink. I’d be pleased if you came along, but it’s entirely up to you. Are you going to fight if I untie you?”
I convinced Jack that I would not fight and she untied me. In silence, I followed her inside the tavern. She introduced me to her two companions (their names I no longer remember). I could see now that they were dressed as hunters and had their rifles slung over the backs of their chairs as they sat at the table.
I had no thoughts of fighting, but I did consider running. If I turned and bolted into the woods, I could have gotten far enough away, hidden myself before anyone even turned to follow. And I wasn’t even sure that Jack would follow. But where would I go, penniless, in the woods somewhere in the middle of New York State?
Instead, I stayed for dinner. We had beef and potatoes and mugs of ale, and it was wonderful. At Oneida most meals were only vegetables, I thought I would never taste beef again. And of course, we drank no ale there, no intoxicating spirits of any kind. I was soon as happy as I could be. After dinner, we drank whiskey and smoked pipes. And as we drank and smoked we told stories. Jack’s hunter friends knew dozens, each one funnier than the last. They were so happy in the telling because they had practiced the stories so many times before and were now delivering them to fresh ears.
We laughed and talked until fatigue overtook us and, try as we might, we could not keep the party going. Jack’s friends still had to drive the wagon home. They stood up and faced Jack, each crossing their arms over their chests. Jack stood up and did the same. Then all three dropped their arms at once.
After they had left I asked Jack what that was about and she explained that they were Patriot Hunters, and she was too. That was their sign.
“We are an army, stretched from Vermont to Michigan, ready to take Canada from the British.” She told me, “More than that I can’t say, but we’ll be mustering tomorrow night, and you are welcome to join us.”
I told her that if they were all as jolly as the two I had already met, I would certainly go with her. The tavern had rooms upstairs, and Jack had already taken one. I went upstairs with her, and we both slept well into the next day.
The hunters returned that afternoon and Jack, and I sat in the back of the wagon as they drove us deep into the woods. Jack told me that Ned Buntline had given her the address of one of the Patriot Hunters’ leaders in the town of Oswego. She hadn’t planned to use it, but after my arrest in Oneida, she went to them for help and ended up joining their army.
“Jail breakin’ is the kind of action the Hunters crave,” Jack said, “they were more than willing to send their men along with me to break you out of Oneida.”
We came at last to a large cabin of logs in a clearing of the forest. I could tell it was occupied by the smoke emanating from a stone chimney. On a pole in front flew a rustic looking flag with a depiction of an eagle in battle with a lion. We went to the door, and one of the men knocked three times.
“Are you a Hunter?” came a voice from inside.
“Yes, on Wednesday.” Our man replied. The day being Tuesday, I looked at Jack quizzically.
“Secret code words,” Jack whispered.
The door opened, and there was more secret activity. As each of the men entered, he clamped his thumb between his front teeth; the guard at the door nodded and let him pass. Jack made the cross-armed salute I had seen the day before, and she was allowed to pass. I, having no sign to make, was barred from entering.
“He’s a candidate for initiation,” Jack said.
“No, I’m not,” I said.
“Well is he or ain’t he?” said the guard.
Jack told me to hush, then nodded to the guard.
“What’s his name?”
“Jonathan Pratt.” She said. I was not happy that my real name would be used for this.
“Wait here,” Said the guard, “We will call Mr. Pratt when we are ready.”
“What is going on here Jack?” I said after the guard closed the door, “I don’t want to join this army.
“I told you yesterday you were welcome to join, and you thought it was a grand idea.”
“I didn’t think you meant becoming a member.”
“Well, it’s too late to turn back now,” she said, “Don’t worry, you’ll like it.”
The door opened directly, and two men came out. Without a word, one of them tied a blindfold over my eyes; then I was led into the cabin. After a few steps in we stopped, and a man addressed me with a voice, deep and stern.
“Jonathan Pratt, have you come to join the Society of Hunters, whose purpose is to liberate the Canadian Provinces form British thralldom?”
At this stage what could I say but, “Yes.”
He made a short speech then about secrecy and loyalty, and the server penalties for violating either. Then he had me recite an oath.
“Repeat after me, ‘I, Jonathan Pratt, solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God and this lodge of Hunters…’”
I repeated after the voice, each line of an oath that went something like this:
"I, Jonathan Pratt, solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God and this lodge of Hunters that I will not give the secrets of this degree, or any secret that may come to my knowledge, in the body of this lodge, to any person to whom they do not justly and lawfully belong; that I will not write, print, stain, stamp, hue, scratch, indent, or engrave upon anything whereby the secrets of this degree may be unlawfully obtained.
I pledge my life, my property, and my sacred honor to the Association; I bind myself to its interests, and I promise, until death, that I will attack, combat, and help to destroy, by all means that my superior may think proper, every power, authority, of Royal origin, upon this continent; and especially never to rest till all the tyrants of Britain cease to have any dominion or footing in North America.
I further solemnly swear to obey the orders delivered to me by my superior, and never to disclose any such order, or orders, except to a brother Hunter of the same or higher degree. So help me God."
After I said the words “So help me God,” my blindfold was removed.
“Behold the light!” said my master.
Three men stood before me; one held a sword pointed directly at my breast, each of the other two held a pistol pointed at my head. Behind them, another man held a flaming torch.
“As you see the light,” he said, “so you also see death, presented to you in the most awful shape and form, from which no earthly power can save you, the moment you attempt to reveal any of the secrets or signs which have, or may be, revealed to you.”
I was then a Patriot Hunter. In little more than a day and a half I had gone from studying peace in the Kingdom of God, to studying war in an army bent on invading Canada.