Dorcas and Josephine, the oldest of Napoleon and Annie’s eight daughters were growing used to the spotlight in Tallahassee. They were the walking, talking embodiment of their father and mother’s relentless ambition to lead the state of Florida into a new century. “Mother, I’m going to help the girls get out of their portrait clothes and into something they can play in now,” Josephine announced as the state photographer excused the children from the portrait session.
Ella and Florida were the first to scramble off the porch. They ran back into the mansion ready to find some mischief they could get into before dinnertime. “I’m going to put baby Beth down in the nursery, mother, and get to the library to do some studying for my upcoming exams,” Dorcas said as she lifted the bright, pretty baby girl into the light of the afternoon sun.
“I will take Agnes to dress in some play clothes, Daddy, if you promise you will come home for dinner and tell us about your day,” Elsie said as she held Agnes’ hand. She reminded her father he had a big job at home. Though it was much more peaceful than the work he pursued at the capitol.
“We all want more time with you, Daddy,” Enid added as she followed her older sisters back into the house. Her father fought back tears.
“I wish there was more time for all of you,” Napoleon offered to Annie after hearing the pleas of his family. “All of you make my day job possible. Without your support, I would fail at every task.” He dropped down to hug Ella, Agnes, and Florida. The girls buried their heads into their father’s big shoulders. “We will all have dinner together tonight. I promise,” the Governor assured his wife and children.
“Don’t give up hope my girls.” Annie took his hand and followed her husband to the waiting carriage where his most trusted staff members were waiting to go back to the capitol office with him.
Her sister, Netta, who was always close by, assured Annie and her nieces she would bring the leader of the state back home for dinner, “We start every meeting with a prayer for all of you. Even the lawmakers in the capitol know that you all are his conscience – his passion. Women will all be lifted from our leadership. One day, women will vote in this state and in this country. Because we won’t stop working to bring the right to vote to every person.”
Aunt Netta was happy she had been at the family portrait session to see her sister and eight nieces join Napoleon looking into the photographer’s camera lens: determined to be equal in their right to vote. Annie was not an ordinary First Lady of Florida.
As Netta’s big sister, she was called to be her mother after Netta’s mother died. Annie was raised by her grandmother, Margaret Hutchison, after her own mother died giving birth to her. Now, she was the symbol of hope for women all over the state of Florida. And, if Napoleon became a US Senator, she would champion the cause of women’s right to vote and of women’s right to higher education to the forefront, all the way up the steps of the U.S. Capitol and onto the floor of the United States Senate itself.
There were many enemies of the family who saw Netta and Annie as trouble. “How could a man with no sons lead the state or the nation?” they were known to muse.
As Napoleon looked back at the beautiful home built for his family and the future families of the executive of the state, he tried to take a deep breath, but today his breathing was shallow. How could he carry so much weight? How could he shoulder the hopes of women, like his wife Annie, and his daughters: Dorcas, Josephine, Enid, Elsie, Ella, Agnes, Florida, and baby Betty, into the future while he was meeting enemies at every turn as he campaigned now for the United States Senate? His dark suit was soaked in sweat.
Taking off his jacket, he settled down into the carriage. The horses carried him back to more work. He loved the campaign in spite of the enemies he always managed to pick up along the way. Campaigning for office meant Napoleon could be with the poor farmers of the state and hear the voices of men and women who were left out of the leadership he enjoyed. His vision was sharp, if not confrontational. He saw how his enemies were manipulating his efforts in support of prohibition.
Like many others, Napoleon strongly believed the consumption of alcohol kept people out of the church and led many to misery. His father was unable to find his faith after the death of his wife, Napoleon’s mother, and he went looking for his answers in the drink. His father caught a death of a cold at his mother’s grave and succumbed to the illness. The very night his father died, young Napoleon decided he would never drink a drop, and he would make fighting the legalization of alcohol a priority in his life. He was only 12 and living in a tent with his younger brother Montcalm. Their sisters were taken in by family members.
The land became his family. The waterways that flowed through it were the blood in his new veins – tributaries fashioned out of the hunger, loss, grief, and misery of the war. As children of the wounded and the dead, they made a pact with the land to be their new mother and their new father, and that land was Florida.
Napoleon did find a way to survive without the distraction of drunkenness which had taken his father and countless others, wounded soldiers with hearts broken by the grief of battle. Death and mutilation were everywhere. Many of the soldiers who survived came home without arms or legs, and there was hardly a hope for a way to make a living off the land.
If Napoleon and his siblings were ever going to honor their parents’ and grandparents’ legacies, they knew they would have to stay sober. More difficulties were heaped on them by the opportunists now coming into Florida to exploit the misery of war orphans.
The real losers in any war are the children of soldiers. They didn’t start the war, but they would certainly pay the price. At night, Napoleon would cook what wildlife he and his little brother Montcalm could find. Sometimes it was squirrels and sometimes snakes, cooked over a small fire the brothers built in the woods, right next to the small tent they managed to fashion out of some old clothes. Their late mother and father’s ripped bedsheets now protected them from the flies and the mosquitoes.
There was no protection from their grief except to build within themselves a focused resolve for peace. Yes, Napoleon believed the consumption of alcohol would only lead to more despair and would certainly destroy any hope of rebuilding a new life on this old land – a new life where he might help his own children, and perhaps even grandchildren, know the peace that he would never possess.
The horses now trotted at a brisk pace to get the Governor back to the political battleground that was Florida’s Capitol. He looked off into the distance at this great building where he confronted the daily problems of making laws to shape a new future, and he thought of his own mortality. After all, he was feeling the weight of nearly a half-century of living.
He reflected on the months he lived in the wilderness, of his childhood interrupted by a war that was still being fought every single day in the struggling south, and in his own native land of Florida, the only state that was south of the south, they were utterly devoid of the institutions of higher learning, of culture and art, and of museums that were enjoyed in the north. Napoleon had to lead Florida forward with formidable obstacles at every turn. Like the horses which now drew his carriage forward, to the big roll-top desk in his executive office, he was hitched to a heavy load.
Napoleon turned to Netta, his sister-in-law, with tired eyes, “Thank you for your faithfulness, sister. In case I forget to tell you often enough, you are helping change this state. If I should die tomorrow, you and Annie, Dorcas, Josephine, Enid, Ella, Elsie, Agnes, and Elizabeth will have to fight to survive those who will punish you for all the progress we’ve made together.” He lowered his gaze to his tired feet and legs.
Netta was fighting back tears, “What you’ve set in motion, brother, I promise I will keep going. Annie and your daughters, my nieces, will be cared for if I have anything to do with keeping the family safe from harm.” Their carriage pulled in front of the capitol. The Governor climbed slowly off as he pulled on his jacket – his armor of power. He controlled his emotions like a good Presbyterian, pretending he was the same person he was in the woods as a twelve-year-old.
All the wisdom he discovered in that labyrinth (or was it laboratories) of swamps would be brought to bear as he confronted men who were far more classically educated and possessed much more youthful bodies than he, all in the halls of this very same building whose steps he climbed more laboriously now than ever. Napoleon opened the door to his modest office and approached the giant roll-top desk which stored his many papers. He sat down slowly.
His legs were heavy, his knees not as strong as they were in his youth, but he was alone now. He was in his own office, even if only for a few moments, to collect his thoughts before beginning yet another day of legislative battles. His large hands moved towards a small box where he gently pulled out a faded photograph of his mother. She was still young.
She would forever be young as God called her home at 34 years old. His heartbeat slowed. He remembered all the love she showered on him in his youth. He remembered how she taught him to read and write when he was just a little boy. He even recalled the comfort of her gaze while he worked to build a new home for her farther back from the river. He spoke her full name, “Mary Dorcas Parsons Broward.”
Mary Dorcas Parsons Broward would sometimes put her hands together in a gesture of applause when he and his younger brother Montcalm would finish a section of the cabin with their father, Colonel Napoleon Broward. Slapping at the mosquitos and no doubt bitten from head to toe, his eleven years of life had seen him grow tall and physically strong. He would do anything to make his mother happy.
She was so weak and with constant illness for as long as he could remember. How could he protect her from the horrible consequences of a war that no woman ever asked for and no man ever dreamt could be so terrible? Even the horrors of our worst dreams wither and wail against the real nightmares that a home-brewed war brings. In comparison, you could see how Hell itself might seem as only a summer jaunt to the Keys.
This morning, Napoleon sat at his desk in the Florida Capitol, the Governor’s desk. He fought his way here through the blood, sweat, and tears – through a childhood spent in the shadows of a horrible civil war – and yet he felt paralyzed again with the pain of her memory.
The woman who gave him life was more resilient and stronger than anyone ever gave her credit for, he thought. She lived through the war. The Yankees didn’t scare her when they came demanding food and shelter, weary as they were from their inevitable destinies of fighting in the South.
Mary Dorcas only saw tragic faces, not all that different from the faces of men her husband led into battle under the flag of the Confederacy. She knew they were far from home and seeking refuge, perhaps even from New Hampshire where she once lived. That was before she moved to Florida with her mother and father. Back then, they were seeking refuge from the cold and wanted to build a home for their only daughter, preferably in the warm climate of a state where the sun shined most days of the year.
Napoleon’s grandparents saved him after his mother surrendered to the deadly flu. He had done his best to build her and his five siblings a cabin after their home was burned to the ground. The very same men his mother fed and cared for at the end of the war had sealed her fate. She would die in the wet air, unable to ward off the viruses which were running rampant. This sickness brought death to mothers and their children just as surely as the guns had brought death to their husbands and brothers on the battlefields of war.
As his staff arrived at the capitol, the Governor pulled himself up from his desk and closed the door to his office. Not just yet. He needed time this morning to remember his mother’s legacy. Her life was always his inspiration for leadership, and the memories of her love made the weight of most burdens easier to bear.
If Napoleon ever found time for doubting, Mary Dorcas would remind him that he had helped her survive when she buried his baby brother Osceola. “You were only three Napoleon; your sister Josephine was four; and your brother Montcalm was two when you would throw your arms around me and kept me from losing my faith.” Due to chronic illnesses or other undiagnosable conditions of the day, Mary could not produce enough milk to keep Osceola alive.
“It was you, my strong son, who helped sustain me through the grief of losing your brother. You celebrated with me when your little sister, Mary Dorcas, was born. You held me again when your baby sister, California, was just too weak and died in my arms on the same day she was born. When I became pregnant again with your sister Hortense, it was you who helped me with all the children. Your father was always running to his whiskey, but when times were hard, you were strong.”
Remembering her words sustained him as he campaigned for the United States Senate and spoke for hours on end without rest. He was fighting in his mother’s memory against whiskey and corporate corruption. He was fighting against the newspapers that were controlled by the rich because their ink was used to suppress the poor, the widows, and the small farmers of Florida.
Napoleon emerged from his morning meditation and prayer. His office workers were busy doing the tasks which kept the state’s executive office running while he campaigned for the job in Washington. He walked to the desk of his sister-in-law, Netta Douglass, busy looking over the day’s legislative bills
Napoleon endured the insults tossed his way for using a woman lawyer in his office to advise him on new legislation. Only his beloved Annie’s sister could review the proposed laws with the wisdom his mother would have had, that is, if God had allowed her to live long enough to see him become the chief executive of the state.
Netta looked up at her brother-in-law’s weary face, “You need to get more sleep, Napoleon. Tell Annie to lock you in the house and keep you off the campaign trail for a few weeks.”
Napoleon managed a slight smile. “I’m sorry to tell you, dear Netta, that my old friend, Duncan U. Fletcher, has turned against me and has the support of the railroads. He will probably win this US Senate seat despite all my speeches around the state. He has the newspapers behind him, along with the money and the influence that I have lost while fighting against the corrupt self-interest of wealthy men.
Netta nodded in agreement and set her eyes back upon the pending legislation, knowing the work she did for Napoleon supported her sister Annie and her nieces, Annie Dorcas, Josephine, Enid, Elsie, Agnes, Florida, and the baby born in Tallahassee, little Betty.
“If God wants me to be Governor and not US Senator then His will be done,” Napoleon spoke to Netta as his staff listened to their morning conversation.