Mama, Am I an Orphan?

Historical Fiction based on the Life of William Whitt (1775-1850)

I had just started school in the fall of 1781. I noticed right off that all the pupils in my class had a father except me and two others. Being fatherless was all I had ever known. My father died in the War of Independence while they were encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania with General George Washington. I was only about two years old when my father left to fight. I had no lasting memory of him or his dying in the spring of 1778.

When I was older, I was told that my father was buried in Pennsylvania either in an unmarked grave or a mass burial that the military was forced to do with the many deaths. We had no grave where we could put a flower or go to remember. Mama only received a letter from an officer about his passing from a sickness called smallpox. There was no funeral for the family, we hoped that a chaplain at least said a prayer at his burial.

I hadn’t thought much about being fatherless until the other school children began to talk about their fathers. Some of their fathers would bring them to school by wagon if they were going that way. All of us walked to school most days.

We did not have much, as my mother was a widow from the days of the war. My parents Shadrach and Mary Rogers Whitt had moved from Virginia to settle land on the South Carolina frontier with many other Virginians before the war. Mama told me I was born in South Carolina on the frontier. I had an older brother by the name of John who was only 2 years older than me.

When the rumors of war began and then the war, our family moved back to Virginia, so my mother could be near her kin while my father joined up with the 15th Virginia Infantry in 1777 to fight the British.

We had moved in with my grandfather, John Rogers, who was now old and only able to do some work. My mother’s brothers, my uncles, helped as they could. I was only a small child, but I knew times were hard.

One night after supper, as we sat by the fire, thoughts began in my head about not having a father. Mama was mending some of my clothes by candlelight while I was poking the fire.

She scolded me, “William quit poking the fire, you’re making sparks. I’m trying to mend holes while you’re trying to burn holes. Stop it!”

“Yes Mama.” Trying to change the subject, I asked her, “Mama, am I an orphan?”

She stopped her needlework and asked, “Child, what on earth are you talking about? Your mama is sitting within spitting distance of you and you talking nonsense. What put that foolish thought in your head?”

“Well, some of my friends at school was asking why I didn’t have a Pa?”

Mama asked, “What did you tell ‘em?

“I told ‘em, I never knew my Pa, he was killed in the war. Then one of the older boys called me an orphan.”

Mama was upset, and she said, “Now listen here William Whitt! You and your brother John are not orphans, you have me as your mother, alive and well. We don’t have much but we have each other, family, good neighbors, and the Lord!”

I answered, “Yes Mama, but I still don’t have a father.”

My mama looked at John who was busy whittling a whistle. She said, “John, bring me the Bible.”

John went to the self where the Bible rested and brought it to her. Mama motioned for him to sit next to me. She put down her sewing and began to search through the pages.

She found her place and said, “Now you two sit up straight and listen to your mama read the Holy Word. This is what it says in Psalms 68:5, ‘A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.’

“And then in the New Testament, Jesus says in John 14:18-20: ‘I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. / Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. / At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.’

“Do you know what that word comfortless means?” Knowing we were ignorant of it, she never slowed down. “It means with no help like an orphan. My father, your grandfather, is a preacher who took high learning in the Bible, and he told me long time ago when your father died about this scripture.

With eyes blazing, she didn’t let up, “Even if you were a sure-enough orphan without mother or father, you have God as your Father. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do you hear me?”

We were afraid not to agree, “Yes Mama!”

She wasn’t finished, “Boys, the world is a hard place and there will always be people telling you nonsense. Don’t listen to everything you hear. You listen to the Word of God. What God says about you is more important than what some barefoot boy in homespun britches will say.

“Now when we need something, we go to our Heavenly Father. We ask Him for bread and when He sends it, we thank Him for it. Since your Pa died when you both were little boys, God has always taken care of us. He will not fail to help us. He will never leave us like orphans with no help.

“When you grow up to be men and have families of your own, there will be hard times. You remember what I told you tonight. He will not leave you comfortless, without help. Do you understand?”

“Yes Mama,” we said being afraid to move.

“Alright then, John you stoke the fire up. Then you two young’uns climb in the loft, say your night prayers, and go to sleep. Tomorrow’s another day, the sun will be up before you know it. I don’t want to hear anymore of that whining about being an orphan, you hear!”

William Whitt, 1781 Charles City County, Virginia

[Historical fiction based on the real life of my great-great-great grandfather, William Whitt who settled just a few miles from where I live in northeast Alabama. We are no longer orphans in Christ Jesus. Papa William left us a Christian pioneer heritage; I hope to pass it on. The names, people, places, dates, and major events are true as we can know with the passing of time.]

Yours on the Journey,

Harry L. Whitt

8 Replies to “Mama, Am I an Orphan?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: