BACKGROUND NOTES TO THE PLAY and PROGRAMME
FIERCE FEATHERS adapted from the story by L. V. HODGKIN by Peter Peasgood.
A small incident 1775 one year before the AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
The unhappy and mentally demented King George (Farmer George) the third sits on the English throne. The American Colonies are to supply the income for further European Wars by unpopular Taxation and Duty on imports which in the end caused an uprising and then full scale war. In 1760 all was well in the new colony of Canada. The English army had defeated the French under the command of General Wolfe by the audacious scaling of The Heights of Abraham. The native American Indians in this region were people of the forest with a unique religion giving them a confidence in life. They were an ancient civilisation with a strong sense of balance between man and nature which was believed to be Divinely ordained. They had such tribal names as MOHICAN, MASSACHUSET, PEQUOD, DELEWARE and the fictional HIAWATHA who lived in the same area. The hunting grounds were the dense forests on the banks of the RIVER HUDSON where they had established ancient burial grounds and LODGES. The RIVER HUDSON was navigated by light weight canoes which could be carried easily overland at rapids and waterfalls. They wore tough buckskin and moccasins on the feet and around the necks dangled WAMPUM jewellery. Impossible to enslave and many French speaking they were encouraged to raid the English settlements on the Eastern banks of The Hudson, particularly Easton Township in the county of Saratoga in the State of New York.
The Quakers had been established for 50 years in Easton Township agreeing to occupy this dangerous region to form a buffer between various groups of colonists in dispute with one another over land rights. To the west of the river lay unknown territory but even at this time small groups of settlers were established within a few miles of the HUDSON. Quakers have a silent ministry with the only spoken words being spontaneous "as the spirit moves" and it is at one of these "meetings" that the story takes place. WAR seemed inevitable and did come in 1776. A country gentleman and soldier GEORGE WASHINGTON was to create a professional army from rich landowners and poor colonists. Within 8 years America would stand alone and christen a new type of equality based upon the independence of freemen but which subdued a black African slave population. In contrast England had abolished slavery 3 years before in 1772 but was now populating Australia with deported male and female, young and old white bond slaves from the prisons and workhouses.
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IN ORDER OF SPEAKING
Dinah Hoxie :
Emma Hoxie :
Chief Wise as an Owl:
NOTES ON THE PRESENTATION FOR FIERCE FEATHERS
The play can be performed without a proscenium on a table and is very
suitable for children with each child taking an Indian each. An adult should
read the NARRATOR to control the timing within the scene changes. The NARRATOR
has enough material to give time for the scene changing. Table lamps can
be used for lighting and two simple backcloths for the Meeting House and
the Cabin of Zebulon Hoxie can be made of black or brown cardboard and
can be reversible to speed up the scene change. The appearance of logs
can be created using white pen (but do not overdo it), I show simple designs
below. The cardboard can be folded to make it self supporting and another
sheet used as a simple drop curtain. No side wings are necessary since
the Indians can be hidden at the back.
10 am in the Meeting House Easton Township
SCENE TWO: A little later:
SCENE THREE: one hour later
SCENE FOUR: later that evening
A measured live performance is needed so as to increase the tension
when the Indians first enter. The seated figures in the first scene will
need little benches to sit upon and be nicely spaced from the front of
the set to the back to make an attractive group. If you wish more elaborate
sets can be made but too much detail will diminish the overall colour impact
of the Quakers and Indians. Trees can be added on either side and the entrance
of the Indians can be extended in time. A window in the Meeting house for
the Indians to look in can perhaps be used to make an audience of children
squeal. I only supply the bare bones and much can be added e.g. canoes.
Music will be a help but the Quakers had no hymns or singing, perhaps a
drum beaten softly in the scene changes would be all that is needed.
FIERCE FEATHERS by L. V. HODGKIN adapted by Peter Peasgood
NARRATOR: It is 1775 one year before The War of Independence
and it is a true story. The fall sunlight lay in patches on the steep roof
of the Meeting House of Easton Township in the County of Saratoga in the
state of New York. The fourth day two hour Quaker Meeting had one hour
to go. The air was very still and the only sound was that of a lone buzzing
bee . Occasionally a small breeze was created and a leaf would be blown
in through the open door. The logs of the Meeting House did not fit too
well and the children of the Meeting could see into the woods through the
gaps. Sometimes they saw a butterfly and they were finding it difficult
to think "Meeting thoughts". In the silence they hoped a butterfly would
SCENE I. Inside the Quaker Meeting House.
NARRATOR: Who is at meeting today. On the Elders bcnch sat Zebulon Hoxie, the grandfather of most of the children in the meeting. Near him sat his 2 sons, one holding the Meeting Bible. Next to him sat Robert Nisbet who had walked the 30 miles through the wilderness from East Hoosak. suddenly in a quiet voice he spoke from where he sat ---
ROBERT NISBET: I speak dear friends from the Book of Psalms. How will the beloved of the Lord be in safety covered. The answer is He shall cover thee in feathers and under his wings thou shalt trust. You have done well dear friends to stay on valiantly in your homes and therefore this testimony I give to you now you shall make your own and we shall not be afraid of the terror by night nor the arrow that flieth by day.
NARRATOR: Susannah Hoxie looked at her small brother Benjamin seated on the knee of their aunt. Near the door sat the older sister Dinah Hoxie next to their mother Emma Hoxie. Robert Nisbet continued his ministry.
ROBERT NISBET: The report of your courage and faith has reached us in East Hoosak and I was charged by the Lord to see you and to walk the 30 miles.
NARRATOR: Dinah Hoxie thought to herself :
DINAH HOXIE: I wish I was all covered in feathers so lovely and soft and warm, then I would be a blessed of the Lord but Meeting still dragged on. Would it never end. Oh to be by the cool river and see the fish but this is not allowed on a Meeting Day.
NARRATOR: Suddenly through the crack between the logs she saw moving feathers at the edge of the woods.
DINAH HOXIE: Are these the feathers that will cover me, oh what a wonderful day.
NARRATOR: More feathers seemed to be moving. Benjamin and Dinah saw them as well now but as they grew nearer and larger they saw that the feathers were worn by Indian Warriors. They held poisoned arrows and small hatchets. The children sat very still. Nothing must interfere with Meeting. Very quietly a hand came round the door. It was RUNNING WATER the son of the chief. In his hand he held a poisoned arrow. Everybody saw him now but the silent Meeting still continued. Emma said to herself.
EMMA HOXIE: Thou shalt not be afraid of the arrows that fly by day - fly by day - fly by day. He shall cover thee in feathers.
NARRATOR: The Meeting continued in silence. The moccasins of Running Water made no sound on the wooden floor as he moved around. He was puzzled by this strange sight. So many men women and children all sitting as if dead, but they were alive. He could hear them breathing. A small child made a tiny sound but that was all. At last Running Water spoke in a strange language.
RUNNING WATER: Entre mes copains.
NARRATOR: Then lie beckoned outside and the rest of the Indians came in slowly and just as softly as he had. The first was Feet of the Deer followed by Gobble Like a Turkey Cock and at very last a noble figure the Chief himself, Chief Wise as an Owl and then in a whisper he said:
RUNNING WATER: Qui est la. Doucement mes camarades, doucemeiit, ces gens n'ont pas les fusils. Voici les femmes les garcons et les fillettes.
NARRATOR: All the Indians stood still no one moved. The wind was rustling the branches of the conifer trees. A racoon passed by looking for food. An eagle flew high overhead. Two small beaver became too tired to help build the dam and swam back to the lodge. In the distance a lone elk foraged for moss causing a rabbit to stir in the undergrowth. All was still at the Meeting.
CLOSE CURTAIN SLOWLY
NARRATOR: The Meeting continued in spite of the unusual visitors. Dinah thought -
DINAH HOXIE: He will cover me with feathers and I shall be safe - I shall be safe - I shall be safe - So safe.
NARRATOR: But something totally unexpected had happened.
Chief Wise as an Owl had felt The Great Spirit reach out to touch him.
He felt at one with these white men. After a while he signaled for all
his warriors to squat and join in the silence. They all continued the silence.
SCENE 2: The same Meeting House a little later
OPEN CURTAIN SLOWLY
NARRATOR: The Meeting now took on a greater meaning. All the children no longer looked through the cracks between the logs. They all sat very still but the Indians sat more still than any of them.
CLOSE CURTAIN SLOWLY
NARRATOR: At the end of the Meeting Zebulon Hoxie made signs to
Chief Wise as an Owl and invited him back to his cabin to continue the
Friendship. These cabins were very strong made of horizontal logs and wind
proofed with mud between the logs and sometimes plain boarded on some of
the inside walls. The winters were harsh for these early settlers. Many
religious groups such as Baptists, Congregationalists and Quakers had been
driven from England when Charles the second was restored to the throne
and later during the reign of James the second. One year on from the time
of this play in 1776 it was impossible for them to return to their birthplace
since at the end of the war they would be given a new nationality. They
would become Americans. The populating of America over the next 2 hundred
years and the opening of the West is a heroic and courageous period of
American history unparalleled anywhere on our planet. But let us return
to our play,
SCENE 3 Outside the Meeting House one hour later.
This scene is acted in front of the closed curtain
ZEBULON HOXIE: Welcome my FRIEND may I say how Happy we are to have thee in our House. May thee have some of our food and thee must tell us of your life with nature.
EMMA HOXIE: Make thyself at home at our hearth and share
SCENE 4 Inside the cabin of Zebulon Hoxie later that evening.
CHIEF WISE AS AN OWL: Indian come to white man's lodge. Indian want to kill white man. You have no gun - no spear - only big red book bound in skin of deer. You all very still. I feel great spirit very close in your spirit lodge. Great spirit say to me no kill white people.
NARRATOR: They talked far into the night. Chief Wise as an Owl spoke of the great spirit in the forests who dwells in the trees and talks by rustling the branches. He spoke of great sunsets when the great spirit paints the sky to give mankind pleasure. He spoke of the animals of the forest, of the racoon, of the rabbit, of the mighty elk, of the magnificent beaver who can alter the flow of great rivers, he spoke of the birds that sing.. He told them of the high mountains, the snows, the rushing torrents, the immense beauty and power of the waterfall and at night the heaven painted with stars.
He finished by saying all are one - all are in the rhythm of the earth. And with that he walked silently out.
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