Traitor in the Shipyard

Published in 2013; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrator Sergio Giovine


It's a busy time at the shipyard: the US Navy has ordered a schooner, two of the workers have enlisted, and guards must be on duty 24/7 to watch for spies. Hosea, the sail maker, has just taken on a young apprentice named Paul, and more help comes in the form of Mr. Osborne, a man who was a prisoner of war with Caroline's father. Caroline's father had heard that Mr. Osborne was shot and killed while trying to escape, and is thrilled to see him. Mr. Osborne is more used to making furniture, but he'll learn quickly. He's very gregarious too, while Paul is shy. Caroline hopes to befriend both. She finds chatting with Mr. Osborne easy. He's eager to learn about his new trade, and Caroline loves telling him about the important work her father does. While Paul is quieter, used to being on his own due to being an orphan, Caroline is friendly to him as well. She also tries to find time to help out with the shipyard, and to help Rhonda sew a quilt for Lydia (Caroline will be returning to her cousin's farm later in the summer) or fish on the Miss Caroline. 

But there's a saboteur about. Planks of wood intended for the boat get shoved into Lake Ontario and water-logged; a sail is ripped; oakum (a substance to seal the boats) is destroyed. Some of this happens even after guard duty is doubled, forcing the Abbotts to consider that the culprit might be someone who works in the shipyard. Fifty pages in, I'm suspecting either Mr. Osborne or Paul, more likely the former in cahoots with the lady friend he seems to have or maybe Mr. Tate--that would be a huge betrayal and make for an interesting story. 

Caroline's father doesn't share my suspicions about Mr. Osborne. He invites his friend and Mrs. Hodges (the lady friend), a widow Mr. Osborne knows from before he was captured, over to dinner. Mrs. Hodges is a skilled seamstress and has just moved to Sacketts Harbor to make money sewing shirts for the military. Quite the coincidence that they happened to meet there. Mrs. Hodges offers to help Caroline and Rhonda with the center block of their quilt, on which they want to stitch a boat. Caroline notices that during dinner, Mr. Osborne states he's been in town four days, when he's only been in two. Maybe just a slip of the tongue. But the next day he pockets a letter clearly not for him (Caroline had seen all the letters at the Post Office). She confides her concerns to her father, who angrily defends his friend. Caroline is upset that she's disappointed her father, but shake the feeling that something's off about Mr. Osborne. When she and Rhonda go to sew with Mrs. Hodges, they admire a necklace Mr. Osborne gave her the day before. It slips out of Caroline's hand when Mrs. Hodges is delivering some shirts to a Navy man down the hall of her boardinghouse, and a stone in it shifts, revealing a scrap of paper with a code on it. Caroline resets the stone quickly but pockets the paper. What could it mean?

One night, Caroline and Rhonda stay late at the shipyard helping the workers make up for time lost due to sabotage. During a bathroom break, Caroline sees Hosea arrange a secret meeting with someone, and returns to watch. He's helping a US Navy sailor row out into the lake. Her heart sinks, fearing the man her family trusts is a traitor. Hosea sees her watching, and the next day tells her what was going on: he took a US sailor to meet a British sailor on an island in Lake Ontario, to defect and fight for the British. But it's not because Hosea wants Britain to win. It's the lesser of two evils: his friend is an escaped slave (Hosea is a free black man) and the US Navy is compelled by law to return men like him to slavery. If they fight for the British, the men are guaranteed freedom in Canada. Caroline understands the difficult choices Hosea and his friends are forced to make, and agrees to keep his secret.

However, Hosea also shares Caroline's suspicions about Mr. Osborne. He's even seen Mr. Osborne talking with a naval paymaster, which is totally out of place, but he can't tell anyone about it without revealing how he's been helped his friends get to Canada. It's up to Caroline and Rhonda to figure what, if anything, Mr. Osborne is up to.

Their chance almost comes too late: they're rowing the Miss Caroline out to watch a trial sail of the gunboat when they see barrels of gunpowder in the water ahead of the gunboat's path, rigged to blow the ship to kingdom come. They're just able to get the gunboat to turn course. Caroline's father knows that only someone working at his shipyard would have known about the trail sail. He's finally ready to listen to Caroline's worries about Mr. Osborne. Caroline goes with her father to confront him when they see Mr. Osborne talking with the paymaster again. The truth tumbles out in bits and pieces.

Mr. Osborn is a spy, but for the Americans. Mrs. Hodges is the traitor. She think the US would be better off still under the Crown. But she didn't know that anyone's life would be in danger, and denies any knowledge of the gunpowder. She also didn't sabotage the shipyard--she was only sending messages (and some boat knowledge, thanks to the help she was giving Caroline and Rhonda). Paul was the saboteur. He grew up in Canada and was being paid by the British to cause trouble in the shipyard. He got to know the men there and became friends with them and Caroline, though, and felt truly bad for thwarting their work, and had recently refused to participate anymore. The deadly plot to destroy the gunboat was the work of a Mr. Crowley, a clerk whose centrally-located office made him privy to all sorts of secrets (he was mentioned earlier in the plot as someone Caroline didn't like). 

A week later, Paul is released from jail and is being given a second chance at the shipyard, after it was taken into consideration that he actually helped finger the bigger culprit and was contrite. The quilt top (the most time-consuming part) gets finished too, and just in time as Caroline needs to go back to help at her cousin's farm--the destitute family has found work and will be moving. Caroline and Rhonda didn't finish the quilt themselves, though. Several women came together to help them with a quilting bee, and Hosea even made a quilt square to add to it. Caroline and Rhonda also got rid of the center block that Mrs. Hodges helped them make in favor of one with a bald eagle, the symbol of the United States, on it.

Looking Back

The story in this book is partly based on a real plot intended to explode the US warship the General Pike. Sackets Harbor was America's main base for naval warfare, and full of activity during the War of 1812. Spies were common on both sides of the war, and women were surprisingly popular as spies, especially for the British: a captured female spy would be searched less thoroughly and receive a lighter sentence than a male spy. Some people fought for British or the Americans despite being citizens of the opposite country, because they believed more in the ideals of  that country. Many African-Americans, especially escaped slaves, crossed the border to Canada, some out of loyalty to Britain but some to escape the threat of being recaptured and sent back into slavery--Canada and the rest of the British empire had outlawed slavery. Others fought for the United States, especially if they had never been a slave--notable because they didn't have voting rights or other civil rights until decades after the war. 


This book is dedicated to "Peg, in  honor of fifteen shared adventures."

There's a bit with Inkpot sitting on a pile of fabric intended for the quilt Caroline and Rhonda are sewing. Having two cats here, I can attest that it's an accurate scene. The younger especially loves walking on fabric when I'm trying to measure it for cutting.

There's also a really nice scene with Hosea helping Caroline, frustrated with the war, sew a stitch on a sail. He proclaims that when the schooner sets out on Lake Ontario, she can remember that she helped make it.

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