“I used to go to school, but I had to stop because the teacher said, being a girl, I had learned enough. But my mom still teaches me a little bit of something every morning. She taught me how to read and write. My brother, Joshua, is going to William and Mary next year.”
Today is my birthday! I’m turning 12! My name is Elizabeth Port, but people call me Beth for short. I got this diary from my mom for my birthday. My family is the middling sort. My father is a blacksmith. My parents’ names are Mary Port and James Port. I have two older brothers. They are named Joshua, who is 17, and Tomas, but everybody calls him Tom, and he is 14. I’m going to write this diary like it’s a story and explain everything about my life because sometimes, I think that someone might read this in the future.
My father inherited the house that we live in from my grandpa. It is made of brick, and it has actual windows! The inside of the house has a downstairs and an upstairs, and it has open fireplaces in almost every room. It has one in the kitchen, the living room, the bedrooms, and the dining room. The upstairs has three bedrooms, one for my parents, one for me, and my brothers share a room. The middle floor has a living room with a couple of chairs and a small table in the middle. The dining room has a big table in the middle and chairs all around it. We eat ham, fish, apples, peas, beans, lettuce, onions, carrots, potatoes, squash, and corn. We drink tea, milk, coffee, wine, apple cider, and beer.
The bedrooms have soft feather beds and curtains around them. There is a necessary bathroom behind the house. My mom has a kitchen garden, and I have to weed, water, and plant in it. I also have to chase away the rabbits that come. We grow peas, carrots, corn, and lettuce. Also, we grow herbs and some plants that she thinks are good for medicine. Remember, my father inherited this house, but we didn’t have the money to buy it if it wasn’t ours. Girls and women wear a shift, stockings, stays, petticoat, pocket, outer petticoat, and a frock. It takes a very long time to get dressed. Almost every morning, my mom and I go to Market Square. There are fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, butter, crabs, oysters, sheep, pigs and chickens, and also pottery. We pay for it all with Spanish silver. There is pence, shillings, and pounds. Sometimes after we go to Market Square, we go to Chownings (CHEWnings). Chownings is a tavern.
I used to go to school, but I had to stop because the teacher said, being a girl, I had learned enough. But my mom still teaches me a little bit of something every morning. She taught me how to read and write. My brother, Joshua, is going to William and Mary next year. My dad wants Joshua to be a blacksmith like him, but Joshua wants to be a lawyer. By now, I’m sure you are wondering if we have slaves. Answer: we do not. My entire family thinks slavery is wrong. So that’s pretty much my life. Oh, and one more minor detail, the war has started. A couple of years ago, in Boston, they dumped all of their tea into the harbor, and it was called the Boston Tea Party. And a couple of years before that was the Boston Massacre. I’ll explain more later.
So, people have been growing more and more restless and annoyed because of taxes and other things. So, we started a war! I didn’t do a very good job of explaining that, but I hope you have the general idea. I’m going to Market Square soon, so I am going to write this quickly. Yesterday, we got invited to my friend’s birthday party, and it was amazing. She is very rich, so they had all sorts of food and things to do. There were six different kinds of meat and apple cider. Then, for dessert, there were pies, cakes, candy, and a thing called a trifle, which is a rich cake made of a jelly roll, custard, cream, rum, and wine. Also the children sat apart from the grown ups. It was so fun. Well I have to go.
Today, when we were in Market Square, I saw a slave auction going on. My mom steered me away from it. I asked her why anyone would be so cruel as to sell human beings.
She said, “Beth, I don’t know. Most people don’t think the way we do. When you grow up, I want you to fight for what is right. I want you to become an abolitionist. And the best way to tell other people that slavery is wrong is to become a teacher.”
And now that’s all I want to be.
I have heard about unrest in different parts of the thirteen colonies. I heard gunshots! I was in the garden, and I heard them! It’s really scary. Joshua went to William and Mary today to see what it was like. He really liked it, though I don’t know if we can afford it.
My mom bought me some clay at the market, and I can draw with it. Here are some of the colors: red, yellow, green, light blue, magenta, and blue. I have already drawn something with them. Anyway, I have big news. Joshua got into William and Mary! We are so happy for him. I saw another slave auction. I HATE THEM!!! Tonight, my mom and I are going to make a huge dinner for Joshua. We are going to have: (drinks first) beer, tea, and apple cider. And then to eat, we are having: peas, ham, carrots, corn, and potatoes. But right now, I’m bored. I think we (my mom and I) are going to a tavern today for lunch. I’m really excited. I haven’t been to a tavern in years! We stopped going when taxes went up. But today, we decided to go. I need to go now.
Right now, I’m in the cargo part of a ship.
Here’s what happened. It’s close enough to Christmas that there were Christmas trees and wreaths all around the tavern. We went to the tavern and walked inside. It had candles all over the place and Christmas trees in the corners. We got led to our table and sat down. In taverns and homes (like ours) they have metal cups, plates, and silverware. A waitress came over and asked us what we wanted to eat.
“I would like ham, and cornbread, and peas as one side, please,” I said.
“I don’t want anything,” said Mom.
The lady nodded and walked away.
“Mom, why aren’t you getting anything?” I asked.
“Because I’m not hungry, and I want to talk to you,” said Mom. “Your father is going to Great Britain with a couple of other people who are going to ask the king to lower taxes. He is going on the ship that leaves tomorrow.”
I gasped. “Why?” I asked.
“Because the taxes are really getting to be too much, and it doesn’t seem like it’s affecting us, but it is, and it’s going to be very dangerous because of the war.”
I stared at her. The waitress came up to our table and gave me my food. I felt sick now, and I didn’t want to eat anything, but I didn’t want Mom to feel bad. Suddenly, we heard a gunshot! We looked around and saw Redcoats (Britain’s soldiers) walk in. A waitress walked over to them and asked if they wanted a table. They waved her away and walked into the tavern.
“Is James Port here?” asked the leader.
I looked around at Mom, but she wasn’t there. I looked back over at the Redcoats, and I saw her talking to them. I walked over to them and heard what they were saying.
“There is no James Port in this tavern. But I do know where he lives. He lives on…”
I moved away from them then. I couldn’t believe it! The Brits were looking for my father! I wonder why? When my mom came back, I asked her why they were looking for him. She said it was none of my business, and I should eat my food so we could go home. So I did. When we got home, Mom went straight to my father’s workshop to talk to him. When she came back, she was extremely pale.
“We have to go,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because your father is in trouble. Get your things together.”
I went to get my clothes and saw a gun pointing into the room. I screamed and ran to Mom.
“Mom! Mom! There is a gun pointing into the hallway window!”
She ran to the window and stared.
“Quick, get ready to go. Now!”
I ran to my room and grabbed a couple of cloaks and a bonnet, and a bag with some of my toys. I ran to Mom, and we ran out the door.
“What about Joshua and Thomas?”
“They will be fine. They are in school.”
We ran to my father’s shop and found him packing some things.
“Are you ready to go?” he asked.
We nodded, and we ran out.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the ship that your father was supposed to go on.”
As we were running, we heard a crash of thunder, and it started to pour rain. I groaned and started to run. When we got to the port, I was muddy and wet and really cold. I realized that only my father had a ticket! I was going to ask Papa about it, but he waved me off. I was silent for awhile. He looked at the ship. When he waved for me to follow, I walked over to him.
“Where are we going?” I repeated.
He put his finger to his lips, and we walked over to one of the guards. We waved, and he nodded at us. Papa looked around quickly to see if anyone was around, no one was. We ran up into the ship and went down as far as we could.
So now I’m in the lowest part of a ship headed for London. Then we are going to go to France to get away from the people who are looking for Papa. I’m really scared.
We’re here! London. It smells like wet horses, and I saw someone empty a chamber pot onto the street. I saw a man, who had an eye patch and a crutch, stagger towards us and ask Papa for money. Now we are in someone’s house. Papa says that it’s a family who he knows from college. They don’t have any kids, so they were very happy to see us.
I slept in the guest room by myself! I was so scared! I don’t like being by myself. We left the house today, and we went to an inn for lunch. When we left, I saw a person talk to a soldier in a red coat and point to us! I told Papa that, but he waved me off, and we kept walking. We went to another person’s house. This time, it was my grandma! I saw a picture of someone on the mantelpiece, and it looked like Mama. I asked Grandma if I could have it, and she said yes.
We are in France! We took a boat a couple of days ago! We are looking for a house to stay in right now, so we are staying in a old, dingy abandoned house. But I love it here! Everything is better. And Mama thinks we will have a house by Christmas! I’m so excited. It’s beautiful here. It started snowing yesterday, and Mama and I had a snowball fight! It is getting cold in the abandoned house, though. We got baguettes at a cafe once, and they were so good! I loved them! There is a really big place where people are selling Christmas trees! When we find a house, we are going to buy one! I found this letter stuck in one of the floorboards in the house. Here is what it says:
To my dearest Ana,
I miss you more than words can say. I will come home soon, once the colonies have calmed down, but for now, I am stuck here in Virginia. The revolutionary war is keeping me here. But, there might be a way to end it soon. We are planning a surprise attack on Boston in ten days. Then maybe I will be able to come home.
Well, I firmly clasp and kiss your hand. Keep well, cheerful, happy. Work, leap, let yourself be carried away, sing, and, if possible, don’t forget a humble soldier, your zealous admirer, Charles.
I have been thinking about what it says, and I think they are going to do the attack on the 27th, which is in six days! I haven’t told anyone about it yet, because if it means nothing, then, you know, but I really do think it means something! I wonder who Ana is, and if she lived in this house.
We own a house in France! Oh, I forgot to mention where in France we are. We are in Paris! The house we bought is tiny, but very comfortable. You walk in, and there are stairs leading up to the bedrooms. Then, you turn left and walk into the living room. It has a little fireplace and a mantle. The person who sold us the house left all the furniture and stuff in it, so we have everything we need. Once you walk past the living room, you walk into the dining room. It has a little table in middle, and then you walk into the kitchen. There is a little counter, and in the corner, there is a fireplace with a cauldron hanging on a iron rail. Then you walk back through the dining room and the living room, and walk up the stairs. When you are upstairs, you can go into two rooms. One is my room, and the other one is Mama and Papa’s room. My room is fairly small, but I love it. It has a little window overlooking the Pont Neuf. I have a big bed, and then there are my clothes (which we bought in Paris), and then there is a little desk, and on it, I have a couple of books and my drawing things. So that’s the house that we are staying in. I love it! The person who we bought the house from was very rich, so there is a ton of fancy furniture, and plates and cups and so on. There are curtains by the windows, and little cushions on a bench by the windows.
I am really worried about that letter. I told Papa about it, and he is going to give it to a French officer that he met when we were looking for a house. It is Christmas Eve! We are going to have a feast tonight! We got a tree and put some decorations on it. It is not perfect, but I love it. I have a stocking over the fireplace.
HA! I was right about that letter! They are going to attack the Brits tomorrow before the Redcoats can attack Boston. I am really glad I found that letter. Today is Christmas day! I got some grapes and oranges in my stocking. Under the tree, I got a doll, some dresses, and a couple of little toys. I also got a letter kit! It has a couple pieces of paper, and a quill and ink, and a seal!
They got them! They ambushed the Brits before they could attack Boston! I sent Joshua and Thomas a letter each, and I hope that they write me back. Papa has to find a job. I think he is getting worried. He definitely wants to be a blacksmith like he was in Williamsburg. I really miss it there! I miss my friends, and I really miss Joshua and Tom. I haven’t gotten a response from them. I kind of hate it here! I miss everything and everyone in Williamsburg. And I don’t have any friends here.
I got a letter from Joshua and Tom! They said they missed us, and that they were going to come to France and find us! I can’t wait to see them! I have a new friend! Her name is Anna. She is my age, and her birthday is right before mine. It is November 12th. I am going to go to her house tomorrow. I can’t wait.
I had a great time! I played with her for an hour! I am going to see her in a couple of days!
Anna is sick! I think she will get better, though. I am praying for her every night. I am so worried. I am kind of liking it in France now.
She is dead!!! I can’t believe it! I feel so bad for her parents. I am so sad. I am going to go to her funeral. I hate France. I really, really, really want to go back to Williamsburg
NOOOOOOO!!! We just got a letter that said that Joshua and Tom got shot! By a Redcoat! I can’t believe this. I am an only child now! I am so sad! Mama and Papa are very sad. I don’t know how we are going to hold a funeral. I can’t… ugh. I can’t contemplate what has happened.
We got Joshua and Tom’s bodies today. They have dried blood all over their chest. I threw up all over them when I saw them. There are three bullets in Joshua’s chest and one in Tom’s. We have put up a bunch of black cloth on our house, and all the furniture has black cloth on it. We are not going to be following the French funeral practices. We are going to have it the way we would have it in Williamsburg.
We are not going to give out gifts, because we don’t have enough money. We are going to hire two boys to carry them, and I am making rings and sewing gloves for everyone who is coming. We are inviting a couple of friends Mama and Papa made when we moved to France and Anna’s family as well. This is going to be very expensive. The coffin is 10 shillings, and there has to be lots of wine beer and liquor, and all of that is about 20 shillings, and we need to pay the boys who are carrying the coffin five shillings each. So in all, it is about 40 shillings, which is about two pounds! I don’t know how we are going to get all of that money.
OH MY GOSH! I had a great time at the funeral! So the boys that we hired, one of them is seventeen and the other one is thirteen. So after they carried the coffin, the thirteen-year-old grabbed my arm and pulled me into the shade of a tree.
“Do you recognize me?”
I realized that he was an old friend I had known when I was really young.
“Good! I moved here a couple months ago.”
“I am sorry that your brothers died.”
“I am not going to say that it is fine, because it’s not, but thank you.”
We stayed behind the tree the entire funeral and talked.
We are going to a fair really soon! I can’t wait! I have seen William three times since the funeral! I am going to a market tomorrow, and it is, like, the most expensive market in the world. I can’t wait! I am going to a newspaper place with Papa because he wants to write newspapers. I am really excited for him. I don’t think that’s the job he wants. He wants to do something. I’m scared for him. I don’t want him to do anything stupid and get killed.
OH MY GOSH! We are going to move back to Williamsburg!! I am so excited! I can see my friends again! I am kind of sad that we are going to leave this house. But I am actually really excited! I am kind of scared though. I don’t want to get killed. But I really want to do something! For George Washington! I am so jealous of the people who can actually fight! Which means only the men. So stupid. They could use the help of women! Aside from, of course, washing and cooking and cleaning and all that stuff. Outrageous! But I am really excited to move back!
We are leaving tomorrow! I can’t wait! I am so excited to see all of my friends again! But I am also kind of scared. There is a war going on after all. I still don’t know what my dad did to make us have to leave. I am going to ask my mom about it. I think he committed a crime against the British. I’m worried about when we go back. I don’t want to have to leave again.
We are home! I am so happy! I have seen all of my friends again, and I am so happy! HAPPY! HAPPY! HAPPY! But I’m also kind of scared. I don’t want to move away again. EVER! We have moved back into our old house, and we are going to have a party! I am going to invite all of my friends over, and we are going to have so much fun! But, I am kind of afraid that the British will come and try to stay at our house, like they did with my friend, Molly. She said that it was really scary, and that they threatened to kill her and her family. She said that she would stay in her bedroom for most of the time because she didn’t want to see them.
I am really bored with life here. I thought that if we moved back I would be really happy, but I actually hate it here. Oh, and I asked what Papa did, and Mama said that he offended a general for the British. I want to DO something! I want to be a spy.
AHHHH! The British are at our house! They are staying here for a week! I am so mad! It’s actually not as scary as I thought it would be, but they are eating all of our food! And we don’t have enough rooms for them, so they kicked us out! Now we have to sleep in the living room, on little mats! But, now is my chance to run away and spill everything that I hear. I am going to listen in on their conversations. They have all been talking about how they are really excited to kick George Washington’s butt. I think that is rude and vulgar, and I would like to kick their butts. I have learned a lot, though. I am not going to write it down here because I don’t want anyone to find it. But I have learned a lot! I am very proud of myself.
I am going to leave in a couple days. I am not going to tell anyone, but especially not my parents. They would freak out! I can’t tell anyone about this. And I have to make sure to hide this diary, so nobody finds it. Because if they do, then I will be in so much trouble.
I have a little problem. I don’t know where to go! I am very lost. I think I am somewhere in Virginia. (I mean obviously, because Williamsburg is in Virginia.) Somewhere else in Virginia. Right now I am in a big hole I found in a tree trunk. I have run out of water, so I am looking for a river or stream. I have been practicing hiding from people, so I can practice being a spy. I also have to practice being a boy. I have no idea how to act. What would a boy do? I am having some second thoughts about this. I am really scared. I don’t really know if there is a punishment for girls and women if they get caught in the army. But I really hope there is not. I have to keep going now.
I made it! I found someone to take me to their camp, and I am now a spy for General George Washington. I don’t think he trusts me. He keeps looking at me strangely. I think he may think that I am a spy for the British. I have to be very careful about what I do. Nobody likes me. I feel very lonely, and I wish I hadn’t run away. I feel like crying. I am not meant to do this. I have seen a bunch of slaves in the camp. They have to do a bunch of manual labor. And they get whipped. It is terrible. I went to their part of the camp, and they barely have any food or water or anything like that. They don’t even have good blankets! They are going to freeze! I feel so incredibly bad for them.
I am going on my first mission! I have to find out when and where the British are going to attack. I have to go to Charleston because General George Washington thinks that the British are going to try to take over the seaport there. Charleston is of course in South Carolina, so it is going to be a very, very, very long trip to get there. I don’t really know why they didn’t just send someone else to go. Someone who is closer! It is going to take days to get there! From what I hear, there is a small American force there already, but they need someone to find out the following:
Commanders: how many and who.
How many guns, men and ships they have, and when they are planning the attack.
And I have to do it all in two weeks. It’s like they want me to fail. How am I going to get all that information in two weeks?! I have to gain the Commanders’ trust, and then I have to figure out everything they want, and then I have to get away! That’s the part I am worried about. The getting away part. I don’t know how I am going to do that. I have talked to some people about it, and they have been no help at all.
It’s just been: “Well I don’t know, you are supposed to be the spy, not me.” Or “Don’t ask me! I don’t want to talk to no spy! Good for nothing slinking about slimy lowlifes!”
When someone says something like that, I usually walk away from them as fast as I can.
I am almost to South Carolina. I can’t really write right now because the carriage is bumping so much. But I am going to try my best. Right now, my schedule is: get to South Carolina, get to the camp, learn as much as I can, then get away, and tell them what I learned. I am really nervous. I CAN NOT GET CAUGHT! If I do, I will be put to death! I am going to meet the men at the rebel camp there, and then I am going to go into the British territory. I am really scared about this.
I have talked to the people in charge at the camp, and now I am getting ready to go. I won’t be allowed to bring this diary, so this is going to be my last entry for a really long time. I have to go now.
Little did Elizabeth know that that would be her last entry in her diary. When she got to the camp, everyone started to get suspicious of her, and soon found out that she was a spy. She was put to death the next day. When her parents found out, they held a big funeral service. All of the Ports children were killed by the British. The Ports moved back to France and lived there for the rest of their lives.