Simon Robins and Horace Reynolds were a lot alike. The neighbors were both farmers in Connecticut. Both fought in the Connecticut Militia during the Revolution. Married cousins from the Bridgeport Nichols family and had a total of fifteen children between them.
They joined local hunting parties to take care of wolves and hunt for game to see them through the long New England winters, shared venison and rabbit from these often week-long sojourns. They belonged to both the local Congregational Church and village council. And aside from minor disagreements, held similar political views.
Then came the Election of 1800. Simon Robins was a staunch Federalist and felt John Adams had the necessary New England values to remain as President. Horace Reynolds felt Thomas Jefferson was philosophically more advanced and the superior candidate.
Their tavern conversations soon became first heated, and then angry. Two collections of tables with an empty space in the middle; a neutral zone nobody dared enter for fear of a fistfight breaking out.
"Why Jefferson?" Simon Robins said, waving his arms. "Let the Southerner go back to his slaves and his mistresses -- which I understand are often the same thing."
"John Adams," Horace Reynolds shouted, "a lawyer who defended the Redcoats after the Boston Massacre! And what has Jefferson done? Spent time writing the Declaration of Independence. Taking on Franklin's job as Ambassador to France."
Whoring around in France," Robins said, his face gone red.
"Serving as Adams' Vice President," Reynolds continued.
"A hefty prize for placing second in a two-man race. Besides that, he's a partisan. Anti-Federalist or Democratic Republican or whatever those Scotsmen choose to call themselves. We need a President of good Anglo-Saxon blood. Not someone descended from seditious felons."
"I thought Jefferson was the descendant of a West Indies merchant," Reynolds said, confused, unsure of his candidate's lineage.
"And then there's the question of religion. He shows atheistic leanings."
"He values science. A man of the future as compared with Adams, a man of the past."
This debate would continue long into the evening with occasional angry outbursts, and with neither man willing to substantially ease the tension.
Two people effected by this were Andrew Robins and Martha Reynolds, the adolescent children of their combative fathers and engaged to be married.
"Remember the old days," Martha said, shaking her head of braided light brown hair. "When we'd all get together. Oh, the laughter!"
"Now our families keep apart," he replied, leaning slightly so his and his fianceé's eyes would be level with each other. "Luckily, spring is a long way off. Hopefully things will get better after the election."
"If they can ever get better," Martha said. "Father comes home from the tavern fuming about the latest debate."
"Both have said hurtful things." The two became quiet, aware of the stubbornness and the silliness involved.
Things did not improve after Jefferson's election. Now Simon Robins was saying that John Adams should not relinquish the Presidency as the election was obviously illegitimate. Horace Reynolds replied that it was Adams's duty to obey the Constitution.
Christmas had none of the reverent happiness of past years as both parties sat on their side of the church greeting their neighbors with icy stares. The minister, an Adams supporter, gave a thinly veiled sermon stressing moral values and how the newly-elected natural philosopher once wrote that a belief in God, twenty gods, or no god at all were all of equal worth.
And as March, and the Inauguration neared, the arguments were more vicious. Adams supporters were suggesting Adams should order the Army to surround the nation's capital and not allow any of Jefferson's men inside.
And the insults grew personal. Reynolds commented about Robins' rotund frame and how easily he was out of breath, even after a short sprint. Robins joked about Reynolds's red hair, questioning his mother's fidelity.
"Such an insult cannot be tolerated," Horace Reynolds said, his arm and forefinger extended in an accusatory manner. "It is a matter of honor."
The word 'duel' was whispered.
"Sir," Simon Robins said, "what are you suggesting? You are aware that dueling is illegal."
Horace Reynolds looked around. Then he stamped his feet, spat, and stormed out of the tavern.
"It's as though," Martha Reynolds said, entering a horse stall, "poisonous fumes are coming out his pores." She then went further inside, cleaning out the piss-soaked straw and earth and dung.
"Same here," Andrew Robins said, entering the stall and laying out a layer of fresh straw. This was one of their daily chores which they shared to save time and get to chat, each one taking the more unpleasant task at their respective father's barn.
"They both want a duel. Oh, Andrew!" she said, weeping. "I so want to be gone from here!"
"I've considered a way," Andrew said. "Both fathers, as veterans, have bought deeds for land in the Connecticut Land Company; I have no idea why as both are very rooted to where they are. What if we stole those deeds, moved to the Western Reserve, and say our fathers died on the journey? It would mean less land but a new start."
"Are there any towns or trading posts?"
"A recent settlement," Andrew said, seeming to have this planned out. "Cleveland."
"Aren't there Indians there?" Martha asked, concern in her voice.
"A few," Andrew said. "But most have moved further west."
On March 4th, 1801, John Adams left the Presidential Mansion, turning over the job of Chief Executive to his former colleague, Thomas Jefferson. On that same day both Simon Robins and Horace Reynolds received hand-written copies of the same letter from Andrew and Martha.
"As you, our family's patriarch are unwilling to act as an adult, we, Andrew and Martha Robins have chosen to take that role. We were married in Pennsylvania and are now in Cleveland Township of the Western Reserve and setting up a nice homestead. We apologize for stealing the deeds, but neither of you seemed to have any desire to use them. We hope the antagonism between our families ends. Otherwise, as Shakespeare once wrote, 'a pox on both your houses.'"
"Moved west?" Horace Reynolds said, shaking his head and taking a sip of ale. "For the life of me, I don't understand young people."
"Not as if they commuted suicide or some such nonsense."
"And we never did fight that duel." He then broke out laughing. "Still," he said, his eyebrows furrowed, "I do miss them greatly."
"Well," Simon Robins said, shrugging his shoulders, "I have noticed the barn is starting to smell of horse shit."
"The entire year," Horace Reynolds said, smiling, "has bore that pungent aroma."
Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-03-13
Image(s) are public domain.