April always takes me back to my childhood in Acton, Massachusetts, right next door to Concord (pronounced more like “conquered” than like “concorde”). Growing up there imbues a child with both a sense of history and an appreciation of literature.
Concord is famously the home of many legendary authors including Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64), Henry David Thoreau (1817-62), William Ellery Channing (1818-1901), Louisa May Alcott (1832-88), and Harriet Lothrop, who wrote as Margaret Sidney, (1844-1924). Even today, well-known authors are drawn there, including Doris Kearns Goodwin, Alan Lightman, and Gregory Maguire. What a wonderful place to grow up. Writers can, as we know, make us see the world in new ways.
Equally ingrained in the culture of the area is its history. There, kids don’t get a “Spring Break” from school. Instead they get a February vacation (the week including Presidents Day) and April vacation (the week including Patriots’ Day.)
What is Patriots’ Day, you ask? It is the commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord—events with local celebrations that rival or exceed Independence Day. Over time, those battles have been the inspiration for many of the region’s poets, not least of whom was lyric poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82) who immortalized the “midnight ride of Paul Revere” in his poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
On the 18th of April, in Seventy-five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year. . .
That’s 1775, when British General Thomas Gage, who commanded the British troops occupying Boston, ordered 700 Redcoats to scour the countryside for the radical leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock, rumored to be staying thirteen miles away in Lexington, and to discover the location of stores of munitions and supplies for local militias, rumored to be hidden in Concord, seven miles farther on.
Colonial spies learned of Gage’s orders and planned to warn Adams, Hancock, and the surrounding towns. That night, two lanterns were hung in the steeple of the Old North Church, signaling the route British troops would take out of Boston.
“One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.” . . .
And they were. In Middlesex County towns, Minutemen—so named because they were ready to rise to arms on a minute’s notice—were alerted not just by Paul Revere but by William Dawes, who took a different route out of Boston to avoid the risk of both of them being captured at once.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington. . . .
Revere and Dawes met at Lexington, arriving about a half hour apart, and warned Adams and Hancock who quickly departed. The two couriers then set out for Concord. Fortunately for history, they were joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott who was out late, returning home to Concord after a courting visit with a young lady in Lexington.
Just as the sky began to lighten on the morning of April 19, an advance party of British troops, led by Major John Pitcairn, arrived in Lexington. A militia of seventy-seven armed colonists stood on the town green. They faced each other down, both sides having been ordered not to fire. Pitcairn ordered the colonists to disperse, and they began to do so. Then a shot rang out. Its source is unknown, but its effect was that the British opened fire, killing seven Minutemen. One mortally wounded patriot crawled home from the green, only to die on his doorstep.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town. . . .
Despite Longfellow’s heroic telling, before Revere could reach Concord, he was arrested by the British and held for questioning before being released hours later. Dawes and Prescott eluded the British, but Dawes lost his horse and walked back to Lexington. It was Prescott who, knowing the terrain, was able to get through to alert the patriots in Concord. He then traveled on to Acton while his brother, Abel, alerted other towns.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.
Captain Isaac Davis, the captain of the Acton Minutemen, had been preparing his land for spring planting and left his plow in his field the evening before. After hearing the alarm, at least thirty of his force of forty Minutemen (including a young drummer and fifer) mustered there. Besides being a farmer, Davis was a metal worker who had fashioned bayonets for his militiamen. They were ready for close combat if need be. In the early morning hours of April 19, they marched with their arms along a nearly seven-mile trail (now followed each Patriots’ Day by local residents, scouts, and history buffs) to the home of Major John Buttrick of the Concord militia. The Buttrick farm served as the meeting place for the approximately 400 Minutemen from various towns who had responded to the call. Between the Buttrick home and the center of Concord a half mile away, flowed the narrow Concord River spanned by a wooden bridge.
By eight o’clock, the British arrived in Concord. Frustrated by not being able to find the stash of weapons and supplies, they went into houses, dragged out furniture, wooden bowls, and anything else flammable, and created a bonfire on the village green. The Minutemen saw smoke rising above the bare trees and feared the British would set the entire town afire.
The Minutemen advanced toward the bridge to cross with orders not to fire unless fired upon. Captain Davis volunteered his men for the front line because they had bayonets, saying, “I haven’t a man who is afraid to go.”
A small company of the British forces had crossed the bridge as the colonists approached. Seeing the combined militia making chase, the British retreated back across the bridge, prying up some of its planks to delay the Minutemen’s crossing. Once across the bridge, the British turned and fired on the undaunted Minutemen. Isaac Davis and another young Acton Minuteman, Abner Hosmer, fell—the first to die at the Battle of Concord.
But instead of turning and scattering as they had in Lexington, the assembled militias held their positions. Captain Buttrick shouted, “Fire, fellow soldiers, for God’s sake fire!” They fired on the British–the first time colonists had fired a shot for liberty. It was the British who turned and ran.
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
Longfellow put it well. The British, never expecting armed resistance, reassembled and marched in formation back to Boston. The colonists pursued them, shooting from behind trees and stone walls. When the day was over, forty-nine colonists had died, but they had killed 73 soldiers of the finest army in the world.
More importantly, the Revolutionary War had begun.
Longfellow was not the only poet of his generation inspired by these events. Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Concord Hymn,” a portion of which is inscribed on the base of a statue of a Minuteman which stands at the Old North Bridge.
By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
Both poets highlight the heroic acts of the colonists, heaping immortal praise on those who fought to free Americans from the yoke of the tyranny of King George III. But there is a portion of one more poem, by the lesser-known poet James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), that struck me the hardest the first time I visited the Old North Bridge as a young girl—so much so that I memorized it that day. It’s not on the tall Minuteman monument erected in 1875 that sits on the colonists’ side of the bridge, nor the obelisk erected in 1836 and placed on the other side of the river to commemorate the battle. Rather it is engraved on a slate slab attached to a stone wall on the town side of the bridge. Overlooked by most tourists, it is flanked by two small British flags. It marks the grave of two unnamed British soldiers who died at that bridge, far from their homes, on April 19, 1775.
They came three thousand miles, and died,
To keep the Past upon its throne:
Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,
Their English mother made her moan.
Standing there, a chill ran through me as I read it. I then realized that the Minutemen weren’t the only patriots in that battle. That there are two sides to every conflict, and it is good to remember that both deserve to be understood.
Writers can, after all, make us see the world in new ways.
*First published in the Spring 2020 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Literary Learnings. Reprinted with permission.
Carol L. Wright is a former book editor, domestic relations attorney, and adjunct law professor. Her debut mystery, Death in Glenville Falls, came out in September of 2017 and was named a finalist for both the 2018 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award and for the 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. In addition, Carol is the author of several short stories in various literary journals and award-winning anthologies. Many of her favorites appear in A Christmas on Nantucket and other stories. She is a founding member of the Bethlehem Writers Group, a life member of Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America, and a member of Pennwriters, the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, and SinC Guppies. She is married to her college sweetheart, and lives in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania with their rescue dog, Mr. Darcy, and a clowder of cats. You can learn more on Carol’s website, or by following her Facebook page.
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Initially, the innovative Corvair was manufactured and marketed as a 4-door sedan.
The compact Chevrolet Corvair was designed to compete with Volkswagens in the US market.
The 1960 Corvair went on sale on October 2, 1959, and was the first American compact sedan with a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine, unit-body construction, three-across seating, and the availability of an automatic transmission. Only four-door sedans were available at first, then came the 2-door coupe, convertible, 4-door station wagon, passenger van, commercial van, and pickup truck body styles.
Though inspired by Volkswagen’s four-cylinder engine, Chevrolet engineers used Porsche engines as a guide.
To stay competitive with the VW Beetle, the new Ford Falcon, and Plymouth Valiant, Chevrolet chose to cut corners right where it showed: on the interior. The basemodel 500 was particularly drab. Everything inside was gray, both the fabric and vinyl upholstery and black rubber floor mats. The 700 models came with three interior colors from which to choose. Extra-cost options on both the 700 and 500 models includedthings we take for granted today, like sun visors for both driver and passenger, armrests, or a cigarette lighter.
The Corvair sales took a significant upturn when the Monza coupe debuted at the 1960 Chicago Auto Show.
Though the Monza would rewrite what everyone’s idea of a Corvair was an alternative to the typical front-engined American family cars of the period.
The death knell for the Corvair came when Ralph Nader’s 1965 book “Unsafe at Any Speed” claimed that the car’s design that incorporated swing-axle suspension created a far greater risk of the vehicle rolling, which he described as “the one-car accident.”
Even though the suspension had been redesigned for much better handling and safety, the damage was done. Nader’s book became a best-seller, but in the consumer’s mind, the reputation of the Corvair was tarnished forever. Chevrolet ceased production of the Corvair with the 1969 model.
I hope you had a good Thanksgiving yesterday. This holiday has always been one of my favorites, if only for the wonderful food. I do love a Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the trimmings, but turkey is a lot of work and yields a lot of leftovers, esp. when you only have four people at dinner. So this year we opted for beef roast with some of the trimmings: mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, garlic bread, and sauteed asparagus. Plus pumpkin pie, of course. It’s my theory that if the Pilgrims had had beef, there would have been no turkey dinner. They were English, after all!
And as a history freak, I love that so much of the traditional Thanksgiving food are native to the Americas.
The food supply expanded when Europeans “discovered” the New World. Prior to Columbus’s first voyage, there were no turkeys, potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, cranberries or maize, i.e. Indian corn, in the Middle Ages. There was a cereal grain called corn, but it’s more like wheat, not like the ears of corn we’re used to. Halloween Jack o’ Lanterns were originally made with turnips!
And there was no chocolate. Chocolate is native to the Americas, so the Spaniards were the first Europeans to encounter it. It became popular at court after the Spanish added sugar or honey to sweeten the natural bitterness. From there, chocolate spread through Europe in the 1600’s and grew into the international obsession is has become today.
Can you imagine a world without chocolate? I really wouldn’t like that at all!
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving treat?
Note: This is normally the day I blog about OCC/RWA online classes, but we will be dark in Dec. and Jan. Class blogs will resume in January.
By: Denise M. Colby
Since my post is set for the day we celebrate Veteran’s Day and I love history, I thought it would be fun to celebrate my family in the military and do a bit of research. I don’t have a long list of family members in the military, nor do I have a lot of stories passed down from generation to generation. What I do have are snippets and a few photos.
I will start with my great-great-great-grandfather James Clyman, who I wrote about a few months ago. He wrote down information in his journal and it is here that I learned he enlisted as a private in a company of Mounted Volunteers on June 16, 1832. He was in the same company with Abraham Lincoln for a month (and together they fought in the Black Hawk War). He is quoted in James Clyman, Frontiersman (quoting a quote from another book by R.T. Montgomery, “Biographical Sketch of James Clyman”) of saying “We didn’t think much then about his ever being President.”
He was then commissioned as a second lieutenant of Mounted Rangers, and later appointed as assistant commissary of subsistence for the company. It’s here that several of the receipts and inventory papers he signed are in the Huntington Library. I was able to go through these papers and take photos a couple of years ago, which was an amazing experience. And finally, I get to use them in something I’ve written.
Clyman transferred to the First Dragoons and nine months later sent in his resignation, which was accepted on May 31, 1834. He wanted to get back to his farm and business and, according to the Frontiersman, after he returned home, “he was besieged with accounts from the Commissary General of Subsistence at Washington, requesting the return of vouchers and abstracts of ration issues made during campaigns in the field, some of which were dated back to the time of his predecessor in 1832. Clyman stood charged on the books with over $400.” I’m interpreting this as basically the government sent bills to pay for the vouchers and ration issues made while he was in the field.
I believe that my grandfather, Carroll W. Marsh, Sr. was in the military, but I don’t have any specifics on him. As I’m writing this, I realize I need to ask and find out something. We have lots of details on my grandmothers side of the family, but not my grandfathers.
Next on my list is my father, Carroll W. Marsh, Jr., who left the National Guard long before I was born, so I didn’t know him in that capacity. Nor, was his service really talked about. He didn’t fight in any wars that I’m aware of, nor did he have any big stories that were shared to me as a child. My dad passed away over twenty-one years ago and the information I have on my dad and his stint in the Army National Guard is actually very small. But, I decided to find out more.
It’s amazing to be able to research via Google. This large company photo has a title above it that says “Local Boys In Sonoma County’s National Guard Company”. One of the men holds a banner with 579HQ on it. I was able to search up the number. The 579th was an Engineering Battalion, based in Petaluma and still exists today. My dad turned 18 in 1950. I don’t know how many years he served, although I do know he was still in when my parents were married, which would’ve been beyond 1952.
My nephew, Jason Burrows, just retired from the Navy earlier this year after twenty-four years of service. We are close in age, raised more like brother and sister. I’m quite proud of him. He’s been all over. Italy, Japan, Florida. On the Atlantic and the Pacific. The few times our families have gotten together, I have loved hearing his stories. The little things, that as nation we have no visibility to. The inside scoop. I remember staying on the U.S.S. Midway with my family for a scout event and finding how tiny the bunks were for even myself. I couldn’t imagine how they were for him for six months at a time given he’s 6’4”. He said when on ship he’d jog for exercise but would have to duck to clear the doorways. I loved every minute of my twenty hours on board, feeling closer and gaining an understanding of where he was and what he did.
I remember when my dad was sick and close to passing, email was new. Hard to believe now, but given my corporate job at the time, I was the only one in the family that could communicate with Jason and keep him updated so that he could be flown off the ship when the time came to come home.
As I’ve written this, I realize I have much more information than I thought I did about my family and their military history. I’m very thankful I have the ability write about it and an audience to share it with. Thank you for joining me in learning more about my family and its military roots.
Imagine you’re reading a fiction historical romance book set in the back country of Montana and one of the characters asks another character if he’s always been a freighter.
He responds with no. He was a trapper.
Aww. Cool. Immediately my mind went to my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather who was a trapper. I continued to read.
He was a part of the great mountain men.
Wait! My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather was called that too. Now my heart was thumping faster as I continued to read. Somehow I just knew what I would see next.
Mountain men like Jedidiah Smith and Jim Clyman.
Stop the presses! That’s my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather’s name! Here in the fiction book I’m reading!!
How cool is that?
I ran around the house showing everyone my Kindle I was so excited!
A lover of all things history, I’ve wanted to write a blog post on James Clyman and our family history for a while, but I’ve been so busy with other topics, I hadn’t gotten to it, but I just had to share this exciting news and tell you a little about him now.
He called himself a mountain man. A trapper with Jedidiah Smith, he was the one who sewed Jedidiah’s ear back on after a bear almost swiped it off. He also came over the pass in the sierras and encountered the Donner Party, advising them not to go that way since winter was settling in. And unfortunately they opted not to listen.
Just how do we know all this? He wrote journals. Daily. Details describing who he met and what he did. Those journals have been printed into books. One titled Frontiersman, was printed in 1960 in a limited number mostly for libraries.
He apparently wrote it all on slates and his daughter composed it into a book. I haven’t read it through completely but there’s a chapter on the Black Hawk War and being in the same unit as future President Lincoln and another on his later years when he settled in Napa, Ca.
Another smaller version came out in the 1980s. My dad signed that one for me. Writing on the inside cover that I’m the 6th generation born in Napa to James Clyman. Pretty cool.
And even more cooler…I’ve actually seen the original journals. They are in the Huntington Library in Pasadena.
He’s in the 4th grade history books as well, which was a real treat for my boys whenever they got to that particular unit.
He’s buried in the same cemetery as my parents and his grave is part of a historical tour they host every once in a while.
Another historical nugget – the original ranch house is still standing. My dad used to spend his summers there and when the land was sold off for housing developments my parents purchased in the neighborhood. You could see the top of the ranch house if you stood in my parents backyard.
There’s more but I’ll save that for another post. I have plans for him to make an appearance in a book or two someday. With all the books out there to read, how fascinating I found someone who beat me to it.
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