Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Celebrating Patriots' Day 2017

Who are these two guys standing in front of the Pennsylvania State House?
Read on to find out...

How the heck...
...are you dressed?
We, as living historians, are an unusual lot.
We most certainly are!
Most of us are adults...older adults...
and we like to dress up in old-timey clothes and pretend that we live in the past. 
And we think little of spending quite a bit of money for this pretending.
Foolishness is what it is. 
And I'm the biggest of them all.
                   Fool, that is.
I mean, it's one thing to reenact at a historic event, but me? 
I'm the kind of guy who will "dress period" about any chance I get - - 
Going beyond what most reenactors do.
Don't ask me why, for I can't explain it.
It's just there.
It's in me.
I am part of an unusual lot indeed.
Foolishness, yes...but I love it.
Today's post is proof. 
Hope you enjoy it.

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I don't believe there is another month that has as many major American historical events occur as the month of April. Now, I'm not speaking of births or deaths, but of the happenings that most history books will, at the very least, mention.
Here...check it out:
~April 3 - 1860 - The Pony Express began it's run, going from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California
~April 6 - 1917 - U.S. entered WWI
~April 9 - 1865 - The Civil War ended
~April 12 - 1861 - The Civil War began at Fort Sumter
~April 14 - 1865 - President Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater
~April 15 - 1865 - President Lincoln died 7:22 a.m.
~April 15 - 1912 - The Titanic sank after striking an iceburg in the Atlantic, killing over 1500 passengers. The survivors were brought to New York
~April 18 - 1775 - Late night ride of Paul Revere and William Dawes (and, after midnight, Samuel Prescott)
~April 19 - 1775 - The Revolutionary War began in earnest with the Battle of Lexington & Concord
~April 27 - 1865 - Steamboat Sultana exploded, killing nearly 2000 passengers, most being recently freed Union prisoners of war
~April 30 - 1789 - George Washington became our 1st President
I realize there were a number of other historical occurrences in April, but I only wanted to list the most well-known.
Quite a few, eh?
Now I would like you to go and ask your kids or your spouse or other family member or friends if they know of these important historical events.
Give them the TEST and see how they do!

Dr. Franklin
Well, since this month of April is so historical, I usually do my own remembrance to commemorate Patriot's Day - April 19th - the date that signifies the beginning of the American Revolution, which is, to me, every bit as important as Pearl Harbor Day, President's Day, or any of the other holidays of acknowledgement for our nation.
And what I can't figure out is...why isn't this date a National Holiday?
Yes, there are the citizens who live in the states of Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin who celebrate Patriots' Day; to many in those states I am sure it is a welcome day off work or school. But at least there is some acknowledgement for this day in which the brave patriots who were there at the beginning - at the conception of the United States of America - are honored. And they are honored more than with burgers, fries, and furniture store sales: in the area around Lexington and Concord, re-enactments of the battles in 1775 and the events leading up to them are held. A particular highlight is the opportunity to ring the bell that warned the local troops that Regulars (British soldiers) were approaching. Lectures, concerts and road races are also organized.
I so wish my home state of Michigan and the rest of our country acknowledged Patriot's Day as well. If reenacting taught me nothing else, it helped me to realize and understand the significance of certain dates and events in our history. Even the most popular holidays, such as Independence Day and Memorial Day, have deepened their meaning to me, especially as I study them more intently.
Well, for the past few years, Patriot's Day has become one of those days which, for this guy, is up there with the best of our national commemorations. And you know that, whether others in my area remember it or not, I remember, and will continue to do so.
And do you know how I observe it, right?
Yessir (or ma'am)! I visit Greenfield Village, Michigan's own 300 acre celebration of the past, and I try to go as close to April 19th as I can.
This year it happened to be Saturday, April 22nd.
Do I even have to mention that I was in period clothing?
Colonial clothing, to be more precise.
Even better, my dear wife came along with me. And we also had a special guest visitor with us!
But before we get to all the pictures and the commentary on how our day went, there is a quick little background story I would like to tell you:
Henry Ford's replicated Independence Hall 
located in Dearborn, Michigan
When Henry Ford built his Greenfield Village open-air museum in 1929, he also built an indoor museum to go alongside of it. And he wanted this very American museum to be something grand - very special - he wanted it to stand out like no other. And to accomplish this he had a replica of the facade of Independence Hall in Philadelphia built as the museum's entrance
What could be more of a symbol of America than Independence Hall?
Ford hired architect Robert O. Derrick to have this version built exactly in the same architectural style as the current one in Philadelphia, and he spared no expense in doing so, including the same mistakes of the original, such as the windows in the tower being slightly off center by a couple inches.
In fact, Ford went so far as to also have the front foyer, which is located under the clock tower, replicated as well.
Oh! To have such money...
And that's where our story begins - on a beautiful late April day when my wife and I, dressed in our 1770s clothing, traveled to this wondrous place of history. And seeing the majestic clock tower of the replicated Independence Hall rising over the trees, I knew, dressed as I was, that I needed to stop there first (we must remember, however, that the steeple of Independence Hall, originally known in the 1770s as the Pennsylvania State House, did not look then as it does today. It was redesigned in 1828 to appear as we now see it, with more ornamentation and the clock).

As I passed through the doors into the foyer, you will not guess who I found there... 
Why...Dr. Benjamin Franklin! It is an honor, good sir, to meet you!

I suppose if I would want to meet anyone while in the Pennsylvania State House, it would be Ben Franklin, a true Patriot and, perhaps, the United States' finest citizen.

As Dr. Franklin explained, it was here where the 2nd Continental Congress met, and it was also where the Declaration of Independence (of which Franklin helped to write) and the U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted.
Oh, it certainly was an honor indeed to hear these stories from "the man" himself!
(Remember - this is a replicated building we are in - not the original. 
But with Dr. Franklin here, it truly felt as if we were in the original!)

As we stepped out of the Pennsylvania State House 
(Independence Hall), I invited Dr. Franklin to join 
my wife and I while we visited Greenfield Village.
He was interested to know what made this 
Village such an amazing place.

I explained that it was 300 years of (mostly) American history, that he would see how the United Sates grew after his time. I also mentioned that there was a special area dedicated to the founding generation, and seeing this section of the Village would almost be like "going home" for him, for he shall be immersed in his own time - a time that he would find quite familiar.

Since this world of the 21st century was so strange to his eyes and ears, 
Dr. Franklin said he would be delighted to join us on our excursion.
Well, then, shall we go?

You know, of course, that I had my trusty camera with me, hidden inside my satchel, and I was able to get some pretty decent photos documenting our every move. As you are seeing here, every picture really does tell a story.
So it was off to the far end of Greenfield Village - the colonial area - to begin our visit. This is where the wonderful original mid-18th century structures, whose architecture style would be familiar to Dr. Franklin, are situated.
From left you see me, my wife, and Benjamin Franklin standing in front of the Daggett break-back (saltbox) style house built around 1750.

In fact as we moved up to the front door, one of the young ladies opened it and exclaimed, "Imagine! We have Benjamin Franklin visiting us right here at the Daggett house!"
This being April, it was still rather chilly outdoors, so we were welcomed to sit and warm ourselves at the hearth.
Besides farming, Samuel Daggett was also a housewright and built this particular house on a spot known as Shoddy Hill Road, atop 80 acres of land.
His wife, Anna, ran the home and cared for the family. She prepared and preserved food; spun yarn; made clothing, towels and sheets; gave the children their earliest lessons in reading and writing; and fed the animals including chickens and pigs.
The three Daggett children were prominent in helping out in household duties: Asenath and Tabitha would have learned the skills of "housewifery" from their mother. They would have prepared yarn by carding and spinning; made clothing, soap and candles; tended the garden; and prepared food. 
But on this day, all was forgotten because a very special visitor came a-calling.
Dr. Franklin regaled our hostesses with stories of his time in France. 
As the ladies here have never been any farther from their home than the town of Coventry, hearing tales from afar kept them enthralled - so much, in fact, that they had nearly forgotten about doing their chores!

We were invited to stay for dinner, but politely declined, 
for we had other places to visit. My thanks to the fine ladies of the 
Daggett Farm for being such wonderful hostesses.

Our next stop was at this beautiful house built in the mid-1700s, the Giddings home.
It was around 1751 that merchant John Giddings built this house, shortly before he married Mehetable Gilman in the fall of that same year. The structure is wonderful example of an upscale New England colonial home.
By the way, Patty and I purchased this house while visiting the 18th century. 
Oh, all of you are always welcome to visit, but it's best to come during the 
fall harvest weekends and during Holiday Nights, for that's when the rooms 
in our home will actually be open for guests.

Our next door neighbors are the Websters: Noah and his wife, Rebecca.
Dr. Franklin paid the Websters a visit, for he had heard of the 
American Dictionary Noah had put together and was impressed with his Americanization of the English language.
Where else but Greenfield Village can someone like Benjamin Franklin visit the 1822 Noah Webster House?

Greenfield Village also has the wonderful mid-19th century Eagle Tavern, a favorite place for my wife and I to eat. The atmosphere is very period and the food is not only delicious, but is served seasonally and historically accurate. Eating there while wearing clothing of times past only adds to the flavor of the experience.
One of the things I learned while researching the old taverns as I was writing THIS post and THIS post is that clothing fashions might have changed, but the basic look and lay out of most taverns changed little from the mid-18th century through much of the 19th century.
Here is a photograph of the Eagle Tavern as it looked in the late 19th century, 
years before Henry Ford's Model T and certainly decades before 
Greenfield Village was even a thought.

Taverns were the pulse of 18th century urban life, and their importance to the local community cannot be overstated; they were the main source of information for the locals. These "publick houses" (or 'ordinaries,' as they were also known) have played an important part in social, political, and even military life.
By the way, the word we know as "pub" is short for the colonial term publick house
Now you know.

The tavern owner was a very prominent man in town, and was thoroughly informed on all public and most private matters. He was certainly the best-known man around, that's for certain, and he made it a point to get to know all of his patrons.
There is a humorous story of the inquisitiveness of the tavern keepers that I should 
like to relate here:
“I have heard Dr. Franklin relate with great pleasantry that in travelling when he was young, the first step he took for his tranquility and to obtain immediate attention at the inns was to anticipate inquiry by saying, 'My name is Benjamin Franklin. I was born in Boston. I am a printer by profession, am travelling to Philadelphia, shall have to return at such a time, and have no news. Now, what can you give me for dinner?'"

By the 1760s and 1770s, the ordinaries were the rendezvous for those who believed 
in the Patriot cause and listened to the stirring words of American rebels, 
who mixed dark treason to King George with every bowl of punch they drank
The story of our War for Independence could not be dissociated from the old taverns, 
for they are a part of our national history, and those which still stand are among our 
most interesting historical relics.
Though I have written two postings about taverns in our nation's history, I have to agree with author Christopher Hitchens when he suggested that a "monograph should be written on the role of the tavern in the American Revolution."
Yes, they are that important.
I also like what another author, Adrian Covert, wrote: "The best part about surviving that for them history hasn't stopped. These aren't museums, these are (historic) conversations about politics, food, culture, and life."
We know that Greenfield Village's 1831 Eagle Tavern is not a true Revolutionary War building (even if its style is very similar), but it still has an amazing history to it. And, yes, I believe Dr. Franklin and I really did help to give the old building a more 18th century feel rather than of the 19th century, at least while we were in the bar area.

Patty and I continued our stroll through the Village with Benjamin Franklin, and we came upon a post office. Well, when you have someone like Benjamin Franklin with you, there was no choice but to go inside.
This Phoenixville (Connecticut) structure from 1825 is a 
beautiful example of a Post Office from the early 19th century.

As we walked inside, the presenter greeted us with a large smile and said, "And here is the first Postmaster!" Yes, it was an honor for Dr. Franklin to be remembered in this manner, for it was in 1775 when the Continental Congress appointed him Postmaster General. Franklin had previously served in that position under the Crown.
The "key" 
Thee key

And we also had to go to the printing office...
Benjamin Franklin: "(My) bookish inclination at length determined my father to make me a printer, though he had already one son (James) of that profession. In 1717 my brother James returned from England with a press and letters to set up his business in Boston. I liked it much better than that of my father (as a chandler), but still had a hankering for the sea. To prevent the apprehended effect of such an inclination, my father was impatient to have me bound to my brother. I stood out some time, but at last was persuaded, and signed the indentures when I was yet but twelve years old. I was to serve as an apprentice till I was twenty-one years of age, only I was to be allowed journeyman's wages during the last year. In a little time I made great proficiency in the business, and became a useful hand to my brother.
Though a brother, he considered himself as my master, and me as his apprentice, and, accordingly, expected the same services from me as he would from another, while I thought he demean'd me too much in some he requir'd of me, who from a brother expected more indulgence."
Dr. Franklin was not so familiar with the newfangled press. 
It was quite different from the presses of his time
as an apprentice to his brother.

Hmmm...the printer didn't do too bad of a job with Dr. Franklin's likeness.

The colonial farmer of the 18th century relied on his large family for labor. He raised cotton, hemp, and flax, cobbled his own shoes, and constructed his own furniture.
And once springtime came around, planting preparations would begin, and the farmer would continue the ritual of hauling the manure pile that he’s been keeping all winter - load after wheelbarrow load (or piled onto a horse-drawn cart) - out to the planting field, to be spread as far and wide as possible.
Then came the process of plowing, which is an unbroken link to the past. The plow, one of the oldest of farming tools, breaks up and turns over the soil to make it smoother for planting. Arms, as used to plowing as they were, would still ache nightly, and ache even worse come the next day when the farmer, once again, found himself behind the two plow horses in the cool of the morning, digging the mould-board tool into the ground to turn up the soil that had laid dormant and frozen all the long winter.
Now it's time to harrow the plowed field. Harrowing is the process of breaking up the clumps of soil to further spread and even out the dirt for planting.
Only after all of this would it be time for planting.
"I am not looking forward to manuring, plowing, and harrowing. The labour is so strenuous."
"What do you plan to plant?"

"I think I will put the squash there, beans there, and lettuce way over there..."
"Why don't you plant watermelon? I hear its taste is like sweetened snow."
"Watermelon? Hmmm...maybe I will..." 
I know my wife would certainly enjoy it!
("Sweetened snow," by the way, was how Anne Warder described her first taste of watermelon in 1786. I think I agree with her description)

Well, all good things must come to an end, and the time had come for Patty and I to depart from our friend.
Before we left, I wanted one more "quick sketch" of my lovely wife and I.
We had a tremendously good time - one that won't soon be forgotten.
Throughout the day, as we journeyed among the historical buildings of Greenfield Village, many folks, both adults and children, stopped Dr. Franklin just to say "hi," and maybe ask a couple of questions or even get a photo taken with him. But what really moved me was when people - adults, mind you - would shake his hand and thank him for all the good he had done for our country.
Wow---there is plenty of patriotism around. Such a wonderful feeling.
But now, I suppose, I can let the cat out of the bag: that wasn't the real Benjamin Franklin I was with. It was actually Bob Stark who portrayed the historical figure.
Yes, it was a portrayal, but because the resemblance between the two men is uncanny, it was hard not to think of them as one and the same. And then to see the smiles on the faces when people saw him...I have to be honest with you, it was very cool and truly very moving to see this.
And believe it or not, a few of the folks even called me Paul Revere! Now - seriously - how would they have guessed that I present as Paul Revere? I mean, yes, I do portray the man, so it was an unexpected honor, but it's not as if I look like him. But it added to everyone's experience, of which I am heartily glad, and there were even a few rather nice conversations I had with a number of visitors who also had questions for me. Some even remembered the date of my ride, April 18, 1775, which occurred only a few nights before.
Very moving and cool indeed.
Maybe we're not so foolish after all.

So, until next time, see you in time.

If you like this post, here are a few links you might enjoy as well:
Colonial Ken's 1st Patriots' Day celebration
Colonial Ken's 2nd Patriots' Day celebration
Colonial Ken's 3rd Patriots' Day celebration
Have you ever thought of what it would be like to travel during the 18th century? Colonial Taverns and Travel
The real story of Paul Revere's ride
The Battle of Lexington & Concord: A personal view
To learn more about the Daggett House, please click HERE
To learn more about the Giddings House, please click HERE
And HERE is a general overview of life in colonial times

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Glen Morningstar & Paul Revere
On the Friday evening before Greenfield Village, I volunteered my time as Paul Revere to help out the Plymouth (Michigan) Fife & Drum Corps, which is "an all youth corps from Plymouth and surrounding communities dedicated to preserving the ancient arts of color guard, fifing, and drumming through live performances." This was their first gala fundraising event, and for attendees/donors it included a fine meal, personal visits from Dr. Benjamin Franklin & yours truly, Paul Revere Esq., along with contra-dancing including dance instruction provided by the best band in the business, the Old Michigan Ruffwater Stringband, headed up by Glen Morningstar.
Dr. Franklin and I went around to the different tables, speaking to the attendees, who were none to shy about asking questions (which is a good thing, right?). A number of people asked if I was okay after my big ride a few nights before. Of course, I thanked them for their concern and assured them that even though I was caught by the Regulars, I was quite alright.
My number one question of the evening was, believe it or not, what was the name of the horse I rode on the evening of April 18, 1775.
I'll be honest, in the couple of years I have been presenting as Paul Revere I have never been asked that question before, so my answer to them was "I do not know. With the events of that evening, I was not too concerned about remembering the name of the horse I was riding."
However, when I went home that night, I looked it up. The closest answer I could find was "Brown Beauty," and even that is not 100% for certain.
Paul Revere simply says that he rode "a very good horse."
Sorry folks, that's the best I can do! 
Anyhow, the evening was a great success, and one of my personal highlights was hearing the Plymouth Fife & Drum Corp perform a few tunes.
Guests enjoy the music of the Plymouth (Michigan) Fife & Drum Corps
I let the hostess know that I would be happy to help again for next year's event, for I did enjoy speaking with the many donors as well as hearing the fife & drum corp perform.
I got the Plymouth (Michigan) Fife & Drum Corps to pose for me.
This group is awesome!

Benjamin Franklin (aka Bob Stark) bid out his 
services in a silent auction to help out the cause.
If you feel the desire (and are able) to help these young musical preservationists out, please click HERE to go to their Facebook page, just in case you want t see more of what they are about.

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