Authors: Alex Haley
hero. If he could survive the Indians.
His rebel friends had told him of a utopian society of political freedom,
whose brave, pioneering citizens had risen up against the colonial yoke,
and broken the shackle of it, had triumphed over Britain, and had spat
in the face of the mad king. A land where all men were regarded as equal,
and all had equal opportunity-to be a simple farmer or leader of their
fledgling democracy, as they chose. If they could survive the Indians.
From his peasant friends he teamed of a different America yet, a new Erin
that had cast off its colonial shackles, and become a safe haven for all
who sought refuge there, a land of boundless opportunity, the streets of
whose small cities were paved with gold, and whose black soil was the
richest anywhere in the world. A land where simple peasants could find
shelter, and be respected as human beings, and could own their own land,
beholden to no one, paying rent to no absentee landlord across the seas,
and where they could grow old in security and leave something for their
children to inherit. If they could survive the Indians.
From Jimmy Hanna, he had teamed of the Founding Fathers, and the
Declaration of Independence, which was, according to Jimmy, the simplest,
most eloquent foundation for the creation of an idyllic country that had
ever been written, the culmination of three thousand years of human
reason, Jimmy Hanna was not as concerned about the Indians as the others.
They are heathen savages, he said, and they will come to God or they will
perish, for America is God's gift to us, a reward for all our labors.
He realized something that came as a sweet surprise to him.
56 ALEX HALEY'S QUEEN
All his life he had sought a cause to believe in and to fight for. He had
thought it was the Irish peasants, but he was not of their number, and so
that cause was adopted, false, and not of his true soul. For a time he had
thought it was the nationalist cause, of being a foot soldier in the
glorious war of ridding Ireland of foreign domination, as the Americans
had done, but now he believed that cause hopeless, and Ireland lost.
The word, the name, kept ringing in his ears. America, land of freedom
and liberty. America, land of promise and fulfillment. America, where all
men were equal, and could lead pleasant, fulfilling lives in the pursuit
America was his cause, he knew, America was his passion, America was his
creed. He would become a good citizen of his new country, and work to
take advantage of the boundless opportunity it afforded. He would go
west, and build an estate of such magnitude that his father must
apologize, and stand in awe of him, for he would be magnificent. He would
not forget the experiences of his youth; he would dedicate his life to
his fellowmen, and strive for the ideals of America, of liberty for all
and the equality of all men, and if necessary, he would die in defense
of what he believed. He could not think of a nobler cause.
They had been at sea for weeks, and for a time all had been bored with
their journey and with each other, but they knew they must be nearing
their destination, and they began to forget the quarrels they had with
their temporary traveling companions, and looked forward to the new life.
Progressively, with each meal, with each conversation, the subject turned
more and more to what they hoped to achieve after landfall, and James
discovered his passion was shared, to a greater or lesser degree, by them
all, and it reinforced his own.
He was dozing in the prow one sunny afternoon, and woke to a strange cry
he had never heard before. A sense of anticipation and excitement buzzed
through the crew and the passengers, and they ran to the side of the
The cry came again, from the lookout, who had a better vantage point high
in the crow's nest.
"Land ho! " -
It was Newfoundland, the land so newly found, and although they could not
see it, they knew it was there, for one of their number had seen it, and
it would appear to all of them soon. Gulls appeared, as if from nowhere,
the cawing heralds of their arrival.
"I see it!" Reverend Blake cried. He pointed to the horizon, and then
fell to his knees, his wife beside him, to pray for whatever it was he
wanted to find, or give thanks for what he had endured.
James, from his vantage point in the bow, climbed onto the bowsprit and
saw it now, a thin, dark sliver of something, between the sea and the
sky. He cried out in joy, and his soul sang. As they sailed on, the
sliver got larger and longer, and changed from black to a deep and misty
The land shimmered before them, lazy, hazy, repository of all their
dreams and aspirations. They had left unsatisfactory lives behind them
for the promise of untainted opportunity; they had cut themselves adrift
from all they held dear, from the soil of their birth and the bonds of
their families. They had escaped from rigid and unyielding societies in
search of something better, fairer, and had put their faith in a small
and fragile boat, and a dream that was intangible and glorious, the right
to carve out their own lives, according to the destiny they perceived for
themselves, and a dream of freedom, in whatever form they desired that
freedom to be.
They had found what they sought.
Philadelphia was almost everything he hoped it would be, but not quite
in the way he had imagined.
His very first impressions of the city had confirmed for him, if he
needed such confirmation, that he had arrived at a place
58 ALEX HALEY'S QUEEN
that was quite unlike anything he had known. The streets were wide and
straight, and well ordered. The houses were clean, brightly painted, and
built of red brick or wood, unlike the stone buildings of Dublin, or even
Liverpool, and the people who dwelt in those houses were a different breed.
There was a sense of bustle and purpose about them, tempered by an evident
enjoyment of life. They seemed to be constantly going somewhere or doing
something, always on the move and yet never too busy to stop and bid a
cheery greeting to friends. They were casual in their language and
relationships and dress. Many of the men, and some of the women, had adopted
trousers, rather than breeches, and tricoms instead of top hats. Their
language shocked him. They cursed and swore commonly, and yet there was an
abundance of churches. It was a town of immigrants, and he heard the Irish
brogue often, but German and French as frequently. The summer weather was
hot and humid, but it had little effect on those who were used to it, and
they bustled about their business as if it were a mild spring day.
Everyone had an opinion as to how money could he made, and everyone had an
opinion as to how best their country could be run, but these opinions were
divergent and often contradictory. The only common certainty was the
passion of their belief in their country, and of their own ability to
prosper. That they prospered was beyond question. James had never seen such
general well-being, and while there were poor, their poverty would have
been riches to an Irish peasant.
Suddenly, the reason for this casual vibrancy occurred to James. Americans
said what they liked because they could, and did what they liked because
they could. For the first time in his life he was living in a place that
did not have a sense of oppression. No one had any need to look over his
shoulder before whispering a complaint of the ruling class, because there
was no ruling class. Those who governed were elected by the people, and
were beholden to them,
At that moment of realization, so simple and yet so profound, James's soul
took wing, and he understood the enormity of freedom, and knew that he was
free. He was humbled by it, and his sense of gratitude to America was
His brothers had prospered along with everyone else, and were generous
with their success. They had welcomed Uncle Henry to their business when
he arrived, just as they welcomed their brother James. They had a large
provisions store, and supplied to and bought from farmers as far away as
Tennessee. The arrival of Henry had enabled them to expand, and Hugh and
Alexander had gone to Baltimore, to open a branch there, while John and
his uncle supervised things in Philadelphia. They took James into their
hearts and their affairs, employed him immediately, and, because he had
a natural aptitude for accounting, within a year they had made him a full
Thus James prospered with America, and teamed the contradictions that
came with that prosperity. He lodged in an elegant boardinghouse in High
Street, run by the formidable Mrs. Bankston. The rooms were spacious and
high-ceilinged, and adequately, if simply, furnished. There was a large
ballroom, with columns grained in imitation of marble, wide-board,
immaculately polished floors, and intricate Oriental rugs. The house had
been the home of George Washington when Philadelphia had been the
capital, and it amused James, and gave him no small sense of triumph,
that he lived in what had been a presidential palace. Several of the
staff were black, and James assumed that they must be slaves until Mrs.
Bankston disenchanted him.
I 'They are free men," Mrs. Bankston sniffed. "I do not hold with
Mrs. Bankston didn't hold with a lot of things. She ruled her staff with
a rod of iron, and didn't hold with her niggers getting uppity.
"They are prone to it," she sniffed. "Because they are so recently from
the jungle, and civilization has gone to their heads. "
She didn't hold with her gentlemen guests receiving ladies in their
rooms. She didn't hold with drunkenness; she didn't hold with atheists;
she didn't hold with taxes.
"I had to board up many of my windows," she sniffed. "Because the
property tax is based on the size and number Of one's windows. It is
iniquitous. It is atheistic heresy to tax God's daylight."
She didn't hold with politicians, who were intent on accumulating the
powers of monarchy unto themselves, and were
60 ALEX HALEY'S QUEEN
building palaces in the dismal swamp that was Washington, the new capital.
"I bless my cotton socks that the good Lord sent Thomas Jefferson to us,"
she sniffed. "He is a man of the people, unlike that Mr. Adams, who wanted
to be king."
She didn't hold with the fact that the new president kept slaves on his
estate in Virginia, but forgave him for it.
"He is good to his niggers," she sniffed, and then lowered her voice. "Much
too good to one of them, if rumors are to be believed, and even had
children by her, if you take my meaning. "
She didn't hold with Indians, who were nothing but bloodthirsty savages,
she didn't hold with anyone who lived in New York, which was a cesspool of
vice, and she didn't hold with New Englanders.
"They believe that God speaks only to them, and that only they know what is
ordained for the country," she sniffed. "They are plain folk, but arrogant
in their humility. The sooner we are rid of them the better. "
Most of all, she didn't hold with the British.
"They have never forgiven us for trouncing them," she sniffed. "They regard
us as disobedient children. Mark my words-they will try to smack our
naughty posteriors for it
James understood that well, because he remembered his own father, but some
of the things Mrs. Bankston didn't hold with confused him. He went to his
brother John for clarification,
John laughed. "It is the great flaw of equality," he explained. "For it
means that everyone believes that only they know what is best for the
The United States, he told James, was not one country but a collection of
independent, sovereign countries, which had forgotten their differences and
banded together to defeat the British. Once they had achieved their aim,
they were not quite sure what to do next. They had a federation but no
common purpose anymore, other than an idea. Some wanted a return of the
monarchy in some form; others wanted a true democracy; some wanted to break
away from the loose federation
and form confederations of smaller numbers of states, or go it alone. The
states fought and bickered and argued among themselves, and somehow held