Friday, January 23, 2009

Slow Burn to War

While researching further information on my ancestors who served as soldiers in the Revolutionary War, I realized that over the years, my memory regarding the sequence of events leading up to and during the war was faulty.

Over time the nuggets of information and stories we find about our ancestors tend to create divergent parallel universes in our minds. The longer the period of our research and larger number of persons in our quest often result in a struggle to remember which universe is the ‘real’ one.

CONSTITUTION P1In my mind, the ‘Battle of Bunker (Breeds) Hill’ shifted closer to the end of the Revolutionary War rather than being near the leading edge. I’d been using a false timeline in my mind when assigning search parameters. Once dates, places and events are set in our memories, we usually don’t refer back to hard copy to confirm them again. We just pull the information from the mental universe we’ve created for them. “I know that. Why waste my time to keep looking it up?”

When I found the error in dates, I started studying the Revolution and wondered why my ancestors chose to fight the British. The classic stories from grade and high school years are wonderful, but they don’t tell the whole story.

The shots at Lexington and Concord were fired in April 1775. The adoption of the Declaration of Independence wasn’t until over a year later in July 1776.

The British won a great victory in the French and Indian War in 1763 and suddenly found themselves with a huge empire in the eastern third of North America. Governing this large territory was going to require more than the few clerks and nominally powerful governors that had existed up to this point in time.

Larger government, additional troops for policing and protection and other governmental functions cost money and the King of England knew that the burden should fall on those who required these services, not the citizens from other areas of the empire.

Legislative acts began to be passed by the English Parliament: The Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts and Coercive Acts arrived on the shores of North America. All involved taxes and regulations that impacted the Colonists, but that they didn’t have any voice in their creation. The slow burn began.

The First Continental Congress in 1774 and even the Second Continental Congress that extended through 1775 up to July 1776 offered solutions that probably would have soothed the feelings of the Colonists, but King George III and Lord North would not listen to them. The Sovereign did not take instructions or input from his subjects. It was an impossible thought.

My Revolutionary War combatant ancestors were all independent by nature and constantly rubbing them wrong with aloof legislation was akin to a continued friction that starts a fire. By the time of the outbreak of hostilities in Lexington, all were ready to fight. The slow burn was now a hot fire in their minds and acts.

Jonathan Thomas was a farmer and seasoned backwoods hunter in New Hampshire and Maine. He didn’t need someone thousands of miles away telling him how to survive and live his life. Jonathan fought to win. The rules of war were abandoned. Guerilla war was his forte’.

Abiel Chandler was still in his teens when the men in Bristol, New Hampshire formed their militia. War may have looked more exciting through the eyes of a young man with less life experience, but his convictions ran deep in his nature. He fought in the war and remained in the militia as a captain for a large percentage of his life.

William Bennett was a fairly recent immigrant from France. He came to America for more freedoms than those experienced in France. He undoubtedly took up arms early in the war because he was wounded in the early Battle of Bunker Hill. He is listed as one of the personal guards of General Washington. One of many, but one of them. His wounds stayed with him for life, partially crippling him, but he willingly paid the price.

Stephen Churchill was already a lieutenant in the militia in Plymouth, Massachusetts and served as a captain for most of the remainder of the war. An able and popular leader, his signature and written messages are found on many documents supporting those requesting military retirements and benefits throughout later years.

William Anderson escaped from the English as a young Scottish soldier who supported Prince James. The English tried to capture and kill him before he escaped to Virginia prior to 1720. Never a friend of the English, Colonel William Anderson was a friend to a tall young surveyor who often stopped by his farm on the North Fork of the Potomac to stay for a few days, obtain supplies or just to say hello. As time went on this tall young man returned to visit William frequently while in service to the King battling the French and native Americans in the French and Indian War.

During the Revolutionary War, the same tall man stopped by for rest and supplies for his army. William Anderson called him George. His men called him General Washington.

William’s only surviving son, Thomas Anderson, had fought the French and Indians most of his life to protect his parents and neighbors on the very edge of the ‘civilization’ established by the white men of Europe. By the time of the Battle of Yorktown, he commanded a company under General Washington at the surrender of General Cornwallis.

The slow burn was evident in each of these men. The flash to fully engage in battle for the nebulous concept of self-government exploded in them when the relatively small skirmishes in Lexington and Concord occurred.

I’ve always been extremely grateful to those who fought for and established the Constitution and freedoms of this country. Little did I dream that many of my ancestors were actively involved in obtaining this inestimable gift.

After years of tracing my lineage I wanted to know more about these folks than names and dates. Finding and adding that ‘color’ to their bare facts exposed the personalities and environmental experiences of both my Revolutionary War Hero ancestors and my other ancestors who supported the war for self-governance in other non-combatant ways.

Their universe in my mind may still need to be refined, but it is closer to the truth now that I know them a little better through studying their lives.

I think we all have similar embers in our being. Embers that are easily inflamed against those who would take these hard won freedoms from us.