Four American Patriots  by Alma Holman Burton

The Farm and the Shop

Patrick won the love of a bright-eyed little lass who had bought many a ha'penny worth of his peppermints. He was poor, and so was she; but he said by putting their shoulders together they might be better able to bear their poverty.

He was only eighteen, and she was younger still; but he said that their ages together made over thirty years. That sounded very old indeed! And so without a dollar in his pocket Patrick Henry married little Sarah Shelton.

Patrick's father gave him a small patch of land, and Sarah's father gave her two or three slaves to set up house keeping with.

The tall Virginia boy went into the tobacco field with his negroes. He dressed in homespun and looked like a farmer; and when the neighbors rode past, they smilingly said, "That boy of John Henry's is finding out how to work."

Patrick worked hard on week days. When Sunday came, he always went to church.

Like his father, he was an Episcopalian, but he loved so well to hear Mr. Davies preach that he attended the Presbyterian church.

One Sunday in May, 1755, Mr. Davies talked about war.

The country north of the Ohio River belonged to the English colonies, yet the French from Canada were building forts there to keep the English away.

King George had sent General Braddock to America with an army of grenadiers, and a Virginia regiment was marching to join him.

They would go to the Ohio country and drive out the French.

Patrick wished very much that he might be a soldier and help fight for the king. But the wife and babies must be fed, and so he toiled on in the field with the negroes.

One Sunday in August Mr. Davies looked very sad when he rose to preach.

He said that news had just come from the Ohio country. General Braddock had been killed and his army defeated. Many brave Virginia boys lay dead on the field of battle.

Yet, he said, a Virginia officer named George Washington, had saved a part of the army.

"Colonel Washington," said Mr. Davies, "is only twenty-three years old. I cannot but hope that Providence has preserved the youth in so signal a manner for some important service to his country."

"Ah," thought Patrick, "George Washington has done so much for his country, and he is only twenty-three!"

He looked down at his hands. They were brown and rough with toil.

"Alas!" he said, "I do my best, and yet I cannot even make a living on my little farm!"

This was quite true.

Patrick could not make his crops grow. Then his house caught fire and burned to the ground. It was all very discouraging!

He thought, if he tried once more, he might succeed as a merchant. So he sold his slaves, and with the money which they brought he built a house and purchased a small stock of goods.

That very year the tobacco crop failed. People were not able to pay for what they bought. There was nothing to do but wait for the next crop.

Meantime Patrick's shop became the lounging place for the whole neighborhood.

The small planters and overseers dropped in to talk about crops. The trappers from beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains stopped with their packs of furs to tell of the Indians on the frontiers.

The ferrymen who paddled the boats across the river repeated the latest gossip of the Yankee peddlers from New York and Boston and Philadelphia. The sons of the rich planters stopped often to talk about horse-racing, cock-fighting, and deer-stalking. But more than all else, these young fellows talked about the French war in the North.

One day they told of the dashing British officers who were stopping at Alexandria, and declared that red coats and gold lace were turning the heads of all the pretty girls.

Another day they said young Colonel George Washington, with a Virginia regiment, had joined the British General Forbes, and they were marching together to capture the French fort on the Ohio River.

And then, a few weeks later, they hurried in to tell how the French fort was taken, and how everybody thought that the French would be defeated at Quebec.

Now, all this talking was very exciting! Nobody enjoyed it more than Patrick himself. Yet talking would not settle bills. The tobacco crop failed a second time, and he was obliged to shut up his shop.

And so, at the age of twenty-three, Patrick Henry, with a wife and little children to provide for, did not have a shilling in his pocket. But his father helped a little and Sarah's father helped a little, and they managed to keep the wolf from the door.

"There is one thing I can say about Patrick," said Sarah's father; "he does not swear nor drink, nor keep bad company."