Saturday, July 02, 2016

On Independence Day We Celebrate All Who Made Victory Possible

In our earliest history lessons we were taught that America was founded by a small group wealthy intellectual white men.  While it is true that men like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock contributed greatly and deserve their place in history, they weren't the only ones.

Take the people of Worcester, Massachusetts who, in the wake of the Intolerable Acts fought back against the Crown. The Acts outlawed town meetings, replaced elections of sheriffs, judges and jurors with direct appointment by the Crown. The people basically shut down their government and thousands of patriot militia around the state marched on their towns and unseated Crown appointed officials. By fall 1774 the people of Massachusetts had overthrown the Crown appointed government and taken back their state.

During the War, women boycotted English-made goods, kept businesses running, supported  soldiers on the battlefield with cooking, laundry, and nursing the injured. Nancy Hart disguised herself as a man and infiltrated British camps gathering info on troop movements. Dicey Langston began spying when she was a teenager, using connections with Loyalist family and friends, to get information. Servant Betsy Hager refurbished British weapons for the Continental Army and cared for injured soldiers.

A number of black slaves participated in the cause. Crispus Attucks, a merchant seaman in Boston demonstrated against the British troops and became the first casualty of the war. Agrippa Hull and Peter Salem fought in the militia. James Armistead was a patriot spy who served as a double agent. His bravery collecting intel within Benedict Arnold's camp helped Lafayette and Washington form a French-American blockade which crippled the British and led to surrender. Thousands of blacks served on the battlefield, on navy ships and noncombatant roles.

Joseph Plumb Martin was an ordinary young man who joined the Connecticut militia at the age of 15 and served under General Washington for seven years. His detailed diary of his war experiences brought to light the daily life of the average soldier. In an excerpt, he writes, "About the middle of the day some of our galleys and floating batteries, with a frigate, fell down and engaged the British with their long guns...The cannonade continued without interruption on the side of the British. Our men were cut up like cornstalks. I do not know the exact number of the killed and sounded but can say it was not small...perhaps less than five hundred in all."

Nanyehi also known as Nancy Ward, was a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, a Ceremonial Chief who sat in on councils and made decisions. She served as a peace negotiator and ambassador for her people and was well-respected by the settlers who crossed through Cherokee territory. She often warned of impending Indian attacks and even sent food to starving militias. During the Revolutionary War, she chose the side of the Patriots and supported their cause believing the only way the Cherokee would survive was by conceding land and peace to the Americans, knowing it could risk the Cherokee way of life.

So, on this Independence Day, while we owe our gratitude to the men who placed their signatures on the Declaration, for they did so at risk of being hanged if the outcome of the war had been different, we are equally grateful to the ordinary men and women of all backgrounds and ethnicities who also risked their lives to defend freedom on the battlefield and home front. Were it not for their bravery and the courage of their convictions, we most certainly would not be here today. 

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