As the afternoon sun began to set on the front of Archon Manor, carriages began to arrive with the evening’s guests. Even though this was a social gathering, it was business first and foremost. As such, all wives were left at home. Cleon Strong didn't oppose to the women coming but some of these men were coming from great distances and given the rumblings of political discord with The Crown, the men felt it might be dangerous for any companions. Thus, it was only the invited guests and their immediate assistants.
One by one they arrived, John Adams from Massachusetts, Thomas Jefferson from Virginia, Ben Franklin from Pennsylvania who had just returned from England on official business, George Washington, a former lieutenant in his majesty’s army who now found himself as a sympathizer with colonists. He was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses which therefore made him the highest-ranking member among the guests. However, due to his position he was here more as a courtesy to Jefferson and more to listen than speak. Other notables were Nathanael Greene from Rhode Island, Samuel Adams from Massachusetts who founded the group “Sons of Liberty” and a cousin of John. Alexander Hamilton from New York, as well as John Jay a young lawyer also from New York. Finally, Nathan Hale from Connecticut. Nathan’s mother was Elizabeth Strong who was rumored to be Cleon’s cousin twice removed. Certificates to prove as much were lost years ago in a fire but Cleon always referred to her as family and vice versa.
Upon their arrival, James, the caretaker of Archon Manor introduced everyone to Strong, “Lord, George Washington, current member of the House of Burgesses and formerly of his majesty’s army.”
“Pleasure to meet you Lord Strong,” said Washington, as he gave a cursory bow to the host.
“Pleasure is all mine Mr. Washington. I’ve heard many great things about you in my correspondence with Jefferson. I hope your ride here was pleasant and without incident and I trust that my staff has been kind to you and your men upon your arrival,” responded Strong.
“They have,” replied Washington, as he stepped aside for the next guest, John Adams and so it went. The final guest needed no introduction, it was Nathan Hale who referred to Strong as Uncle Cleon.
“I’m so glad that you could make it. How is your mother? All is well I hope,” asked Strong, as he embraced his “nephew.”
“She is doing very well Uncle Cleon. She sends her regards,” answered Hale.
“I’m very glad that all of you have arrived safely and I welcome you to Archon Manor. I have some wine from Greece that I wish to share with all of you while the staff finalizes the dinner preparations. Will you please join me in the dining room? I am sure that all of you are thirsty and hungry. Let’s address the first part," said Strong.
James led the men to the dining room and sat all the guests at the table. In no particular order they sat. Rank was not a factor at this table. Customarily, the host sat at the head of the table at these affairs. For this occasion, Strong had a new table constructed by fine craftsmen in Westchester County in a round shape. He wanted to be thought of as the facilitator for this dinner but not the leader of it. He wanted everyone to feel that they were his equals at this table. Reminiscent of the story of Camelot.
As everyone sat, they saw that a glass of Retsina had been poured for them to toast. Once everyone was seated, Cleon raised his glass and said, “To progress, liberty and the peace and prosperity to follow.”
In unison all responded “Aye,” as they began to sip.
Strong chose not to ease into it. “We are all concerned about what has been happening around the colonies and many have said that the time to act is now. What say you?” He opened the floor to all who had something to say.
“I felt that the so-called ‘Boston Massacre’ was the time to act but there are other considerations as well,” answered John Adams. His cousin echoed him though less restrained.
“Change will only come when The Crown feels great discomfort. The Sons of Liberty are ready to make that sacrifice. Living under tyranny has become intolerable,” said Samuel Adams.
“That massacre you speak of, was it the one where a brawl broke out between colonists and soldiers and the soldiers fired upon men who had no firearms?” asked Strong.
“The very one Lord,” replied John Adams.
“If memory serves me correctly, a free Negro sailor was the first one shot upon,” said Strong.
“That is correct,” replied Sam Adams.
“Firing upon unarmed men sends a terrible signal, it indicates that The Crown shows no respect for its subjects. This could reasonably lead to a revolt. Small miracle that it did not,” said Strong. At this point the other men chimed in.
“Any move towards independence must be unified, otherwise they will find a way to stop it through a colony sympathetic to The Crown,” preached Jefferson.
“Thomas you must remember that the southern colonies will often agree with Virginia, so if we really want this to happen then Virginia must lead the way,” replied Franklin.
“Ever since the burning and subsequent sinking of the Gaspee in my hometown of Warwick, Rhode Islanders have been clamoring for action. I believe, no, I’m certain that Rhode Island can be counted on when the time comes," said Greene.
Hale then interjected, “As can Connecticut. Many have complained but don’t want to stir up the sentiments against his majesty and his army out of fear for reprisals.”
At this point the venison was being served with an assortment of local root vegetables. The discussion however carried on.
“Pennsylvania would most likely be on board but is also concerned about being singled out. My position places me in an advantageous situation. By working closely with the English, I have been in contact with some French men of noble birth and it seems that most of them would side with the colonists. Be that because of a genuine sentiment towards the colonists or because of their animus towards England, it is something to consider. We will have a hard time winning without the support of a large nation,” affirmed Franklin.
“Any chance that the ill will towards England would cause France to enter war or at least provide support?” asked Hamilton.
“I would be stunned if France sent its soldiers into harm's way to simply help the colonists, but the general sentiment is that the court of Louis XVI might provide weapons, money and perhaps tactical support. We can use their animus toward the English to our advantage. Like the way the Jacobites did in Scotland,” asserted Franklin.
“Hopefully with a very different outcome this time. I would rather not see a colony become the second Culloden,” exclaimed Jay.
As the dinner continued, two men remained quiet as they listened. Both Strong and Washington were taking it in. Wanting to keep everyone focused, Strong interjected with a question that made the room fall to silence for a few seconds.
“What then? Beyond airing of grievances, what else are you willing to do? Rare is the case where a subjugated people are awarded their freedom from their rulers. To that effect two questions need to be answered before moving forward. First, are the people willing to take up arms in their own defense? This is not to be taken lightly; for history is written in the blood of the defeated.”
This resonated with many at the table, especially Washington who as lieutenant in the English army had seen this play out. Strong continued, “the second is, what comes next? Will the colonies become another monarchy? Moving forward without a plan is no plan at all.”
“Many feel that self-governance is what will work here. The details have not been worked out yet, but we know that a monarchy will not be supported by the colonies. It will have too much in common with The Crown. Colonists will not fight for that,” answered Jefferson.
“We would need a central government to speak for us as a nation, however beyond that, I’m open to suggestions,” replied Hamilton.
“Agreed,” added Jay.
“What about representative government?” said Strong. The men looked at each other with a look signaling agreement. Strong continued as James refilled his glass with wine, “Gentlemen, democracy has been the antidote to tyranny for many centuries. It has often been stopped by tyrants and monarchs because it can give power to the people. Right now, no one needs that more than the colonies. When I…” Strong caught himself and continued seamlessly, “when democracy was invented, it was for the purpose of settling disputes within the town of Athens. What the majority wanted is what was done. This served the people of Athens well. It was also brought to different parts of Greece and eventually to the Roman empire who instituted a senate to run everyday affairs as representatives of the people. All men should have the right to self-determine their destiny. Financially, all men are not the same but morally, all men are created equal,” said Strong emphatically.
Strong made a point of making eye contact with Jefferson knowing that Jefferson owned slaves in Monticello. To this Jefferson agreed vigorously, obviously missing Strong’s point or ignoring it altogether.
Strong continued, “Democracy is the mother of freedom and the father of independence. A nation who refuses to give every man a vote is doomed to commit political suicide. There is no way that a nation as big as this nation is going to be, will survive without the approval of the governed.”
This made all the men take note of what he said. Particularly the part about the nation being so big. The guests felt that Strong was speaking as if this had already come to pass. Undeterred and uninterrupted Strong continued, “The nation that you want is at your fingertips. Very soon, on the order of a couple of months, this talk will turn to action. At which point all of you will have an important part to play. You will be seen as the fathers of the great nation that will follow. That being said, I implore you to employ democracy as your tool. Both for recruiting and for actual governance. It will be the only thing that will survive.”
Washington finally spoke, “I solemnly swear that I am ready to stand up for the colonies on the battlefield and beyond but only under the condition that we do not institute a monarchy.”
Jefferson added, “We will never let that happen!” as he raised his voice above all others seemingly outraged at the thought.
Then Strong said something that almost betrayed his secret, “You must act soon to organize. You will have the consent and support of the French Crown but only if you act soon. The French monarchy will fall before the turn of the century.”
The table came to an eerie silence, “How would you know that?” asked John Adams.
The others echoed the sentiment and Strong felt he needed to think quickly lest he be caught in an inconsistency that would have required him to divulge the truth. Strong quickly responded, “The French, like the people here are growing tired of the heavy taxation and the luxury of the nobility while the common man struggles. Not much different from here but the situation there is not yet as pressing as it is here.” With that, he was able to make it more of a prediction than a past tense fact. At least he hoped so.
“Uncle Cleon, you have inspired me even more so than when I agreed to come. To whomever will be the eventual leader of this action I pledge, my sword is yours,” said Hale.
“Why not you?” asked Strong.
“There are far more qualified men to lead than myself,” responded Hale, and then followed up with “why not you Uncle Cleon?”
“Yes, why not you Lord Strong? You have the fervor and charisma to lead men. You are a captain of industry well respected by people on both sides of the Atlantic. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that you are a born statesman or have been one before,” added Greene.
That one felt close to home but Strong replied, “I love my privacy. I’m not much of a public person. Besides, I will always be seen as an outsider. How will it look that ‘the Greek’ was the one that rose to lead the charge towards independence? No, my friends, it must be a native son that carries the weight of leadership. The people must feel that their independence came about through their own actions. Outside support is acceptable but importing independence doesn’t work well. The people must feel that it is their destiny based on their own action. I would rather have one soldier that believes over ten that are paid to fight. However, always remember, you must work united. All the states must be united in order to succeed.”
Startled, Washington asked “What do you mean by states?”
Strong realized that he almost slipped again and quickly responded, “My apologies, state is the word we commonly use to describe an autonomous region. In ancient Greece we had city-states. Had they all united to create a unified Greece, history would have been very different.” As soon as he said this and the guests agreed, Strong realized that maybe he had enough wine. He decided to not have more beyond his current glass.
The table was cleared, and brandy was served as well as an assortment of pastries and desserts. The centerpiece was a Greek delicacy called baklava. The only person at the table familiar with it other than Strong was Franklin, having had some of the decadent dessert while supping at the Hellfire Caves in Wycombe, South East England at the home of his friend Francis Dashwood. The house was a notorious gathering place for intellectuals and free thinkers at a time when that wasn’t highly encouraged in England; especially among nobility. One of the bakers there had a Greek grandmother and that is how it came to be found on Dashwood’s table. Everyone enjoyed the dessert except for Washington who felt it was far too sweet. He also complained of some pain in his teeth and decided to not eat anymore.
Because he and Jefferson had the farthest to go, they were scheduled to leave the earliest. At daybreak to be precise but both were intrigued by their host and decided to join him in his study for cognac.
Most turned in for the night, but Jefferson, Washington and Hamilton all retired to the study. Eager to learn more about their host they continued asking questions.
“You seem very sure that this revolt will be successful. Why is that? No reasonable person would give us much of a chance, but you speak as though it has already come to pass. Why?” asked Hamilton.
“I suppose I’m just optimistic,” said Strong.
Still suspicious, Hamilton pressed on, “Optimism is hoping one wins, not saying it with the conviction that it has happened.”
“I found that peculiar as well,” added Jefferson. “Is there something that you are not telling us?”
“Such as what? What could I possibly know that I’m hiding from you?” asked Strong nervously.
The men continued. In part out of curiosity, but also because they knew little of him. Was he trying to sabotage them? Was he a spy for The Crown? It wouldn’t have been impossible. He traded with and conducted trades for many countries, including England. So many questions. This was for certain; he was not just a simple spice merchant. He was far more educated than most. Carried himself like a powerful land baron despite having only a modest parcel on Manhattan Island. He sounded like a statesman that wanted no power. He somehow sounded wise beyond his years. That’s another thing. How old was he? His full white beard made him seem older than the others in the room, yet he displayed a youthful vigor not often found in men past a certain age. Strong was an enigma. The men needed more answers in order to ascertain whether they should trust him.
Finally, Hamilton asked a question innocent enough but if Strong wasn’t careful, he might have divulged more than he intended to.
“Your name, Cleon Strong, that isn’t a Greek name. How did you come to have that name? asked Hamilton.
Upon thinking, Strong decided to answer with the truth. “You are right Alexander, that was not my name at birth. However, it is a lot easier for most people to pronounce my name if I anglicize it. So that is what I did.” He hoped they would leave it at that. They didn’t.
“Out of curiosity, what is your birth name?" queried Jefferson.
Strong felt the walls closing in but, this is exactly what he wanted. He wanted to be honest with these men, but he wanted to make sure that they were worthy of the truth. He deemed that they were because of their dedication to the cause and their selflessness. They were more than worthy. He knew that these men would go on to be the fathers of a Republic that would spread democracy and be the most influential democracy for centuries to come. He felt the need to be completely honest with them but needed to pour himself some more cognac before doing so. Liquid courage as it were.
“My name in Greek is Cleisthenes,” said Strong.
“Oh, I see you are the namesake of the father of democracy,” said Jefferson, as he turned to the others, “no wonder he’s such a strong proponent of democracy.” As Jefferson, Hamilton, and Washington enjoyed a chuckle, Strong fixed his gaze on Jefferson’s eyes. An uncomfortable silence fell on the whole study. At first the patriots wondered if they had offended the host, an act unforgivable during that era. However, it seemed like more than that.
Finally, Strong spoke, “The men at that table tonight will give birth to a glorious Republic which will be the envy of all. They will see the value of freedom and seek to export it to every corner of the world. This will not always work but the people of this Republic will never stop trying because they will know the pain of being subjects of a ruler that cares not for them and only seeks to exploit them. They will know this because they will learn it from you, the fathers of the Republic.”
The patriots looked at each other puzzled, wondering why he was rambling like this. Someone under the effect, would not have been as coherent and with as sharp a mind for detail. His light blue eyes lit up when he spoke. These statements were not mere musings, he knew these outcomes to be fact. But how?
Hamilton broke the silence and asked, “I don’t mean any insult but the things that you are saying don’t make any sense. You speak of events not yet occurred in the past tense as if you had already lived it. How is that possible?”
At that point Strong decided that full disclosure was needed. No oath of secrecy was necessary because if they repeated this to anyone, they would be discredited as lunatics or drunks. These were honorable men who could keep a confidence and they were intelligent enough to know that disclosing this wasn’t in their best interest. With this knowledge, Strong moved forward.
“I have seen these events come to pass as well as many others. I have seen nations rise through the will of the people to claim their own path. I have seen it in the 19th century all the way to the 22nd century. The reason that I am here is to ensure that democracy takes root in this country. This nation is the key. You will be the beacon that illuminates freedom for centuries to come. So, you see, I needed to bring all of you together to make sure that you understand this. The monarchy in France only has a little over a decade left. What you do here will influence what happens there. Monarchies must fall for men to decide their own destiny and reap the rewards of their labors.” As he looked around the room, Strong saw the shocked look on their faces and prepared for the volley of questions.
“How is that possible? How can you know about the fall of a monarchy in the future?” asked Washington.
No longer burdened by secrecy, Strong simply responded by saying, “I was there. I saw Marie Antionette lose her head at the guillotine effectively ending the tyranny and greed of the nobility.”
“How is it possible that you were there when it has not yet happened? How can we believe you?” asked Hamilton, getting ever more impatient with the host.
“With a device that hasn’t been invented yet using a power source that your friend Franklin will be instrumental in helping to popularize and harness. I’m afraid that if I explained more than that, I would confuse you further,” answered Strong.
“I don’t think you could confuse us any further,” answered Jefferson.
To which Washington followed up, “are we to believe that you are from the future?”
“No, I’m actually from the past,” replied Strong.
“I retract my last statement as we are more thoroughly confused than we were a moment ago,” said Jefferson.
“I was taken from the past to the future by way of the device I mentioned earlier. Now I go where I’m needed to ensure that democracy survives.”
It then hit them all like the proverbial bolt of lightning, the man standing in front of them was not a namesake from Greece, he was in fact Cleisthenes…the Cleisthenes. The father of democracy. The man standing in front of them was born 23 centuries ago and created the system of one man one vote. They were utterly astonished and speechless.
Finally, Washington, ever the pragmatist, said, “I’m not sure if what I’m hearing is fact, but I will take it as the work of providence that we are here tonight to be inspired by you. Rest assured that there will be no monarchy instituted here.”
“We have a lot to think about,” said Hamilton.
“It would be best to sleep on it,” replied Washington.
“Agreed,” said Jefferson to the other fathers. “Thank you very much Lord Strong. You have been an inspiring, interesting and above all gracious host. We will depart at sunrise so we will not see you in the morning. We bid you goodnight and farewell for now,” added Jefferson.
“My pleasure gentlemen. Get some rest and have a safe journey home,” said Strong.
With that the men all retired to their rooms. Unable to sleep and knowing that only the three of them knew of Strong’s true identity. In the morning they went home to foment a revolution.
As winter gave way to spring the weather turned milder and some of the flora surrounding Archon Manor began to blossom with beautiful colors. At night, Strong often liked to sit on his back porch to take in the fresh air. On that evening, it was much warmer than the calendar indicated. Cleon looked at the calendar and realized that the date was April 18, 1775. He fixed himself a glass of Ouzo which arrived on the last shipment from home. That was the eve of the revolution and Strong spent it on his back porch, knowing full well that it was the last night of unopposed rule by The Crown in the New World.
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