Notes From My Knapsack 3-19-15
A Body in the Well (pt. 4)
"That's Caleb Munro."
It actually may have been more than one man who said that, all at the same time. Hezekiah Mirk realized that all of the men standing around the body were looking at it with varying degrees of both amazement and recognition.
Heads nodded. Indeed, that was the distorted but tragically recognizable face on the body which had just been pulled clear of the well. Mirk, the newcomer to the village, still had trouble with some of the names he dealt with most days. This fellow's name was not one he had heard before.
Responding to a puzzled look, Job Case said "Munro was one of the men who marched to the relief of Fort Meigs from Granville two years ago. When Gen. Hull unaccountably surrendered his army before Detroit, and our own unit with him in the collapse of his command, many of us ended up paroled off by the British in different directions. Most of us made it home, one way or another, within a few months, but Caleb . . ."
Hezekiah could tell there was a bit more story than was being shared in that trailing end of the narrative, but he was still catching his breath having climbed down a sixty foot well and back up again cradling a corpse, and was in no mood to be patient.
"This means he's of the village, but has he any people to claim this body, or to press his cause?"
The pause, not long, was eloquent. This was a man with a complicated history, indeed.
One man towards the back of the group, one of the Averys, said "His wife might have something to say, had she not declared him dead already."
Case looked back over his shoulder disapprovingly. "She'd not heard a word from him for over a year, and everyone else returned. We all affirmed her request to have Munro declared dead, so that she might…"
"Might what?" asked Mirk after a decent delay.
"Might marry again and have a man in the house to plow the fields and bring in the crops," said Stuart Seever without rancor. "Judson Williams was widowed himself that year, and they were compatible."
"So the return of Caleb Munro might not have been good news for either her or her…new husband?"
"He was a hard man. Not unmourned, so to speak, but not missed by many, either." This from a man Mirk could not recall even having met before, apparently from further on up the Pataskala valley. But the other townsmen nodded slightly, enough to indicate agreement if not enthusiasm in the assent.
Mirk turned to Case, and asked "Shall we go to the former Mrs. Munro and bring her the news directly, welcome or not?"
"We should. I know not how she will receive it, or Mr. Williams. They…"
The cause for the discomfort suddenly came to Mirk. There surely had not been enough time for the court in Lancaster to formally declare this man dead, so the connection between the widow (twice-over?) and the widower was not what Massachusetts morality would call a "regular" one. In common-law their circumstances were regular enough, back in New England let alone here on the frontier of 1815, but the church-going expectations of these Congregationalist settlers was still straight-laced enough to give discomfort.
"Sooner said, more the mercy," suggested Mirk; Case nodded a grim agreement. They walked back towards the village, leaving a small circle of men looking at that corpse now brought to the light of day, from the depths of both a well, and from a history whose outlines Hezekiah Mirk was only just coming to understand.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you'd like to learn about Granville history at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.