Claude Walker | Bicentennial-By-Buttons

Paul Turtle (also called Yok-che, Paul Michael Sullivan, Jr., Pablo Tortuga, Seminole Smoke)

Niilhaasi ("Moon"), (Paul's mother)

Paul M. Sullivan, Sr. (Paul's father)

Kundiata (Paul's wife)

Mariyama (daughter of Kundiata and Paul)

Fixico ("Fearless"), (Paul's maternal uncle)

Patrick Sullivan (Paul's paternal uncle)

Cuffy (Kundiata's uncle who raises her after the Negro Fort bombing)

Choc (Paul's boyhood friend)

Romulus "Rommy" Duvall (politically-connected slaver also called Silver Peg Leg)

Jo-Jo Tamba (Black Seminole fugitive who joins forces with Paul in Georgia)

Sky Panther (village youth who tracks Kundiata's kidnappers)

Nanowrimo (chirpy boy who comes to the aid of Paul Turtle)

Abraham, Osceola, Coacoochee and others also appear in the novel.  See "Key Leaders"

First glimpses

Niilhaasi ("Moon"), (Paul's mother)

Niilhaasi was "...born of a Creek mother who died in childbirth, and an Appalachee father who hunted for long periods and then just disappeared. Niilhaasi and her older brother - Fixico - were raised by an elderly grandparent and other families in their Creek tribal village in southeast Alabama. Often on their own, both children were self-reliant and resourceful."

"Niilhaasi loved to explore the woods and marshes, and developed a spiritual side rooted in nature's patterns and colorful grandeur...Under the tutelage of several elderly women, she mastered weaving at an early age and her artistry blossomed. She wove unusual patterns with vivid colors, using her knowledge of the region's plants to make stunning dyes. Some of her creations featured depictions of a tale or event, so she grew as a storyteller and historian. Her bold sense of design, technical proficiency and unorthodox vision made her well-known throughout the tribe and region."

"Organized and an organizer, Niilhaasi was soft-spoken, but firm. As a teenager, she became a village leader thanks to her abilities to plan a project, make a list and delegate duties with a smile."

"Niilhaasi's exposure to the region's commerce helped her pick up other languages, dialects and even the written word. And as her village grew, it attracted a diverse population from allied tribes. Niilhaasi was a gifted speaker and an even better listener, so she became more cosmopolitan and empathetic.

"Niilhaasi's natural leadership was apparent. Her willowy beauty was becoming apparent, too."

Paul M. Sullivan, Sr. (Paul's father)

Paul Michael Sullivan, Sr. was "...conceived in Galway and born in Boston. He joked that he had come across the ocean in the belly of his mother who was in the belly of the ship.

"Paul, Sr. never knew his father, a fisherman who had died at sea, leaving behind a 2-year old son - Patrick - and a young, pregnant widow. Galway had been hit by decades of misfortune: the 1755 tsunami, one famine after another, growing tension between large landowners and rural poor. So, Paul, Sr., his widowed mother, brother and an aunt boarded a 3-masted sailing ship destined for the land of milk and honey. The voyage took two weeks, but they landed safely in Boston Harbor and moved in with distant relatives.

"Paul, Sr. enjoyed the life of a street kid in Boston in the 1790s. His wiry frame and beaming, freckled face endeared him to everyone in their densely-packed waterfront neighborhood. He was a jokester and quick with his hands, playing magic tricks on the girls. As a boy, he and Patrick would loiter on the docks, querying sailors about their voyages from Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, learning about cargo and world geography. They ran errands for the dockworkers, sold bread to sailors and, for awhile, Patrick ran bets for the local bookie.

"Paul, Sr. and Patrick spent a few years in a one-room elementary school organized by the Catholic settlement house. The cramped classroom was unruly, teachers were volunteers and textbooks rare. Still, both boys learned to read, becoming the first in the Sullivan family to do so.

"After their dear mother died of whooping cough in 1798, the boys worked various jobs on the docks. It was a raw, day-to-day grind. Patrick wasn't shy about using his fists to resolve labor disputes on the waterfront, which began to catch up with him. The brothers agreed to start fresh. They had heard wonderful and mysterious tales about New Orleans and Mexico, so they packed a few belongings, took what little cash and gold their mother had left them, and set off on horseback."

Paul Turtle (also called Yok-che, Paul Michael Sullivan, Jr., Pablo Tortuga, Seminole Smoke)

"When Paul, Jr., was born, the village rejoiced. He was the first baby born of an Indian mother and white father, both of whom were highly-regarded in the village. Paul Turtle, as the infant was dubbed, was a delight to everyone, especially the elderly women who lined up daily to play with him, sing to him and rumple his slightly reddish hair.

"Paul Turtle inherited his mother's high cheekbones, dark complexion and soft-spoken manner. Polite, unselfish, artistic, sardonic: these attributes likely came from Niilhaasi.

"From his father, he received freckles, piercing gray-blue eyes, reddish-brown hair, an uproarious laugh. Fearless in standing up for the little guy, ability to talk to anyone, prankster, magician: these certainly came from Paul, Sr.

"Both parents were literate and relatively cosmopolitan. Both had lost their parents at a young age and were accustomed to life on the move, an attribute that would be tried soon enough.

"Paul, Sr., and Niilhaasi were lean, agile and sensitive. Paul Turtle inherited wide feet, strong legs and quick hands from his father, and huge lungs, a high red blood cell count and long slender fingers from Niilhaasi. These factors have been widely disputed by historians as explanations for Paul Turtle's lightning-fast reflexes.

"He was a happy baby with a normal Indian childhood, despite being biracial and growing up in an unusually multi-cultural community. He quickly learned English (with a Galway/Boston accent) from his father and several Indian dialects from his mother.

"He took an early interest in smoke and fire: making fire from almost nothing, creating colored smoke, directing flames, concocting different smoky odors. Even as a toddler, he would stare unblinkingly into the fire, trying to comprehend the idea of heated gases. He became a student of smoke, inventing names for the many different odors of village smoke: smoldering garbage, burning brush, sizzling pork. He was so peaceful sitting by the fire."

Kundiata (Paul's wife)

"Many inside the Negro Fort were of Gullah descent. The Gullah had been enslaved in Sierra Leone a hundred years earlier and taken across the ocean to Charleston, South Carolina. Those who survived the awful voyage were sold to rice plantation operators along the Georgia coast. The Gullah became an isolated culture with little contact outside the plantation. Many West African traditions, music, language and food endured.

"In 1790, after years of involuntary servitude, the father and uncle of Kundiata escaped from their Georgia rice prison, streaking to Florida. Like many runaway slaves, they blended into the diverse Seminole community, becoming "Black Seminoles". Kundiata's father married a Creek woman who gave birth to Kundiata in 1806. Kundiata was raised free in Florida, but the family was always on the run.

"The family had been on the move for months before arriving at the Negro Fort that spring. Like many from other tribes, her parents and Uncle Cuffy had fled the savagery of the Creek War. At the stronghold called the Negro Fort, they didn't need to constantly glance over their shoulders for enemy warriors, American soldiers or slavers..."

"...Kundiata didn't really hear the blast: the 12-year old felt it reverberate through the pit of her stomach and up to her chest cavity.

"Flames roared through the debris. Body parts everywhere, hanging from trees, splattered against scorched walls. The smell of gunpowder, smoke and blood permeated the ruins and Kundiata's nose. She had just been speaking to her mother, who had been blown to bits. Vaporized in a flash, her blood and organs drenching Kundiata. Her father - who had been firing a musket at the Creeks from a parapet - lost both legs in one awful instant and lay dying. Uncle Cuffy was sitting upright, covered in a thick coating of dust and guts..."

"...After weeks of wandering and hiding, the remaining Negro Fort survivors settled into an abandoned cattle ranch in the Alachua Prairie. Cuffy quickly became the busiest man in the new village, putting a roof over everyone's head and rebuilding the community cooking area. One of the older women taught Kundiata cooking recipes and medicines using the herbs from nearby swamps and woods. One Black Seminole who had worked for a Spanish military official taught her Spanish.

"Kundiata took long solitary walks in the woods, and became a self-taught expert on the region's plants, birds and critters. She sang to herself in Creole, and built up her Miccosukee, English and Spanish vocabulary. She accepted the reality of her parents' brutal deaths and knew she must blaze her own trail..."

Choc (Paul's boyhood friend)

"The boy, chubby with long black hair, aware of an audience, dramatically took a long hollow reed and dropped to his knees. As Paul and a few villagers looked on, the new boy took a deep breath, puffed up his cheeks and blew furiously through the reed into the fire pit. Flames were channeled down the stone sluice he set up and blasted out the end in a whoosh. Witnesses were impressed with this display of incendiary magic and then went on with their business. Paul walked over, introduced himself and expressed his awe.

The boy said his name was Chococotti, but Paul could call him Choc. Choc offered a detailed description of the concept of this fiery wind, how he built this sluice and other ways to scare your foes, including bigger boys in his old village that picked on him..."

"...Choc was studious, inquisitive and deceptively creative. His inventive mind was a perfect match for Paul's dreams and visions. Paul could see the practical applications for things; Choc saw how those things could be built and with what materials.

"During long walks, Choc taught Paul the names and uses of countless plants and herbs. He introduced Paul to tohatka, which Paul knew from his mother's weavings as Myrtle Oak, whose roots could be crushed and turned into a striking red dye. Or chokochi, a member of the muscadine grape family which can be smoked like tobacco...Paul and Choc had their first smokes together in the woods. Both then vomited.

"The boys shared a fascination for fire and smoke, and were soon designing imaginary weapons using colored smoke, flying flames and exploding fireworks. Paul taught Choc English and Choc taught Paul about herbs that can create purple smoke."

Mariyama (daughter of Kundiata and Paul)

"The baby was a delight. Good-natured, smiling, quiet. Dark complexion with freckles.

"Mariyama was a star in Paul's village, and had the whole community doting on her, not just Niilhaasi and her three proud great-uncles. Cuffy had moved to their village to be close to his beloved niece, so he offered one more set of hands. The baby was especially amused by Cuffy's jokes and a strong bond grew between them. Mariyama was well-loved and cared-for.

"Kundiata was intent on raising a multilingual child, so the baby was exposed to Miccosukee, Muscogee, Creole, Spanish and English. Paul held her for hours, sometimes carrying her on long walks around the lake. He carved her a tiny sugar cane flute that she blew mercilessly.

"Around her second birthday, Mariyama stunned Uncles Cuffy and Fixico during a fishing trip when she leaned over in the dugout canoe and grabbed a fish faster than they could even blink."

Romulus "Rommy" Duvall (also called Silver Peg Leg)

"Paul was intrigued by the American delegation: rigid military men, some well-dressed fops from Washington D.C., the new Governor, a few local politicians.

"One local fellow who easily caught everyone's eye was Romulus Duvall, who had lost a leg in childhood and now strutted about on a sterling silver peg leg.

"Despite being only 25 or so, his long white hair, steely blue eyes and rotting teeth made him an unforgettable figure. He was an aide to the local militia officials, Abraham told Micanopy and Paul. Duvall gave Paul a chill."



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