In 1815 Virgina, the rules were hard and fast, to be obeyed without question, however, as we are about to see, not all rules are applied with equality. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander! John and Catherine Smith, a very religious couple, had a small farm about three miles outside of Kirkville, Virginia where they were raising their three children in the traditional puritan upbringing.
Rachel the oldest of the three, was the apple of her father’s eye, and the first of the Smith family to be born in America! Both John and Catherine had high hopes that their eldest daughter would marry and have a family of her own right in Kirkville, and being a bright and very beautiful girl, Rachel should have had her choice of any of the fine young Christian men in the area, but alas, she seemed to show no interest in any of them, and this confounded her parents no end, and no amount of coaxing could persuade her to take up with any of the available beau’s. Whenever her mother brought up the subject, it always ended the same, with Rachel running to her room and slamming the door, which effectively ended the conversation!
Having just turned eighteen, Rachel did have an interest in boys; it was just that she was not interested in any of the ones her parents deemed appropriate for her. She would not have been caught dead with any of them, and the thought of spending the rest of her life with one of those dullards, well, it was enough to make a body cringe! Rachel was a high-spirited girl, and she was attracted to likeminded men, that is, those that seemed to have a zest and love of life.
The only one she had ever met that made her tummy tie up in knots was Robert Walker, the son of divorced parents! That was enough to make him almost an outcast, and surely put him out of bounds as far as marriage was concerned, but Rachel didn’t care, Bobby was who she wanted, and Bobby was going to be who she would get! For over a year now, they had been meeting at the far end of the pasture, down by where the river ran slow and gentle. Hidden by the trees, the two of them had spent the last twelve months getting to know each other, and as is wont in these cases, getting more intimate with each passing day.
At first, Bobby was afraid to touch Rachel’s hand, his shyness making it hard for him to even look her in the eye! Over time, however, the two of them forged a bond that began as friendship, but evolved into love. From the first kiss which had Bobby shaking so hard he missed Rachel’s mouth and kissed her nose, to the first intimate caress, a now much more assured Bobby, cupped the full bosom of his lover through her blue summer dress. Two young lovers learning about each other’s bodies together, taking their time, enjoying each step as they awakened to new and exciting experiences. They had progressed by now, to the point that when they would meet, they would quickly shed their clothing and take a dip in the warm river water, frolicking and enjoying each other’s company, and while they had not consummated their love, they were taking a great chance that their sacrilegious behavior would be discovered and that they both would be severely punished.
Their luck seemed to be holding as no one ever came to that part of the river, so they played in the water, their young bodies free and open, while reveling in their young love. While they were sunning themselves on the sandy shore, their eyes closed, holding hands, and naked as the day they were born, they didn’t even notice the small two man skiff that was floating past them on the slow moving river. If they had, they would have seen Ben Barker and Hank Flowers poling their boat within thirty feet of them, their mouths hanging open in stunned silence at the sight of the two naked teenagers. Therefore, when they finally dressed and returned to their homes, they had no idea of the deep trouble they had gotten themselves into!
The loud knock on the door came as a surprise, because it was customary not to interrupt people during dinner hour. John opened the front door, only to find three members of the town council standing before him with grim looks on their faces.
“Good evening gentlemen,” offered John, “and what brings you way out here on this fine June evening?”
“Good evening Brother John,” answered a very somber William Hawkins, “this is not a pleasure call, but it something we must discuss with you with great reluctance!”
By now, Catherine Smith had joined her husband at the door, and after inviting the three visitors inside everyone took a seat and got comfortable before John leaned forward and said, “You had something on your mind, William?”
“John,” William answered, “you know the penalty for fornication?”
“What’s this about, William,” questioned John, “why would the law against fornication have anything to do with me?”
“Not you, John, but I regret to say it, but about your daughter, Rachel,” replied William.
“What about Rachel,” boomed John, “you had better explain yourself in a hurry, William or I’ll be fit to take my broad ax to you and your brethren!”
Rachel, still sitting at the kitchen table, felt the bottom fall out of her tummy, a sickly feeling spread through her that made her feel like vomiting.
William continued on, “John, do you think I’d come here and make a charge like this if I didn’t have solid proof against her?”
“What, what kind of proof do you have,” demanded the very agitated father!
“John, Catherine, Ben and Hank were within a stone’s throw of your daughter and young Robert Walker sunning themselves in the altogether down on the bank of the Floyd River,” explained William, “both of them had their eyes closed, so they never knew that they’d been seen.”
“Robert Walker,” John Smith fairly shouted, “no daughter of mine would ever be seen anywhere with that young ruffian, let alone naked on a river bank where anyone could see’em!”
William cast his eyes towards Rachel, and was about to ask her if what he said was true, but he was stopped short by her outburst of sobs!
John Smith leaped out of his chair and strode over to his daughter and grabbed her by the arm and jerked her to her feet while demanding, “Did you debase yourself against God and family with young Walker!”
Rachel, now bawling even harder, tried to reply but was unable to due to her uncontrollable sobbing. Her father, now in a fit of rage, dragged her across the room and threw her at William and screamed, “Get her out of here, she is no longer a daughter of mine, she has brought great shame to this house, and will not be forgiven!”
William and his men then led the crying girl out of the house and put her in the carriage for the trip back to town. Through all this, Catherine Smith was also sobbing, but more quietly and to herself, she tried to wave a final good bye to her daughter, but John Smith pulled down her arm in disgust and said, “She’s made her own bed, Catherine, and now she must sleep in it!”
The two-horse carriage made good time back to Kirkville, and thankfully, Rachel had calmed down quite a bit by the time they hit the town square. To her shock and dismay, however, her lover, Bobby Walker, was already in a pillory in the middle of the town square! A small group of youngsters, mostly boys, was throwing taunts and derisive insults, as well as a few well-placed rocks at the immobile offender. Rachel broke down in tears all over again at the thought that she too might soon be made a public laughing stock alongside her paramour! The carriage wound its way through town, until it reached its final destination, the church, the tallest and most imposing building in the small town.
“Why are we stopping here,” asked Rachel in a small-frightened voice?
Ignoring her question, two of the men took her by the arms and led her up the path to the front doors of the old structure where William knocked and waited for and answer! Almost immediately, the large door swung open, behind, which stood Deacon Henry Hancock, a direct descendant of the signer of the declaration of independence! Dressed in black, his coal black eyes burned with a passion that had always terrified Rachel, enough so that she would go out of her way to avoid contact with him. His fire and brimstone sermons were enough to frighten anyone, especially the young children of the congregation who looked upon Deacon Hancock with almost god like reverence.