Monday, April 9, 2018

Buried Treasure: Stories of the Founding Generation

Names and dates.  We mustn't forget names and dates when it comes to history.
And that's all they are,  just names and dates that you need to know for the big test  so you can move on to the next chapter in your history book.
But we know that history is much more than that;  it's the deeper research that will take us beyond all of these names and dates.
Along with studying the important events that shaped our nation,  reading some of the  'buried treasure'  stories of our past can also add so much color,  for they help us to see our long-dead founding generation as real people - living breathing people - giving us a more complete picture of past lives and events.
It's unfortunate,  however,  that since these lesser known tales may not directly involve a well-known founding father or military general,  they tend to remain buried.  Now,  I am in no way taking away from our founders.  I'm only saying there were others around who also had stories to tell,  and it's these stories that can take the little pencil sketch of information  (names and dates)  and turn it into a brilliant mural painting;  they can complete more of the descriptions,  helping us to understand what it was actually like to live in such a time.
So,  what I am presenting here are a few tales of this nature;  stories that give some depth and fullness to help complete the historical picture.
It's up to us to keep these stories alive,  my dear.  
We must share them so future generations will never forget.

~Captain Levi Preston~
BIRTH:  Oct 21,  1756
Danvers, Essex County,  Massachusetts,  USA
DEATH:  Jan 5,  1850  (aged 93)
Danvers, Essex County,  Massachusetts,  USA
BURIAL: Preston  Cemetery
Danvers, Essex County,  Massachusetts,  USA
(picture courtesy of Find-A-Grave)
Let's begin with a narrative from a soldier who played a part in America's fight for Independence:
In the year 1843,  a young scholar named Mellon Chamberlain was researching the origins of the American Revolution.  During his research he interviewed a veteran of that war named Captain Levi Preston.  Chamberlain wrote that Captain Preston was ninety one years old at the time of the interview,  but my own research shows the old man still being a spry eighty seven.  And if his tombstone on  "Find-a-Grave"  is correct,  then he was just eighteen years of age during the Battles of Lexington & Concord sixty eight years earlier.
I would like to quote,  in part,  from Mellon Chamberlain's 1899 book,  John Adams, The Statesman of the American Revolution and Other Essays.  It comes from a speech he made to a gathering of the Sons of the American Revolution, for the words are written in the patriotic celebratory manner I so enjoy:
It is high honor for me,  Sons of the American Revolution,  to join with you as a guest in the celebration of April 19,  1775.  That was indeed a day made forever memorable by events of great import of that age and people...
It was neither unexpected nor unprepared for.
Citizens of Concord,  this is your shrine.  It ought to be the shrine of a nation.  Invoke for it Divine protection from lightning and tempest;  provide for it protection from fire and the wasting tooth of time!
Of the events of April 19,  1775,  I need say but little.  They have passed into history.  Every year they are recounted in our public journals.  They are household words.  My purpose is not to rehearse them,  but to ask what these events meant for the colonists at the time;  what they have since meant,  and what they may mean for future ages. 
On the first question I have some direct authentic intelligence from an actor in those scenes. 
When the action at Lexington on the morning of the 19th was known at Danvers,  the minute men there,  under the lead of Captain Gideon Foster, made that memorable march---or run rather---of sixteen miles in four hours,  and struck Percy's flying column at West Cambridge.  Brave but incautious in flanking the red-coats,  they were flanked themselves and badly pinched,  leaving seven dead,  two wounded,  and one missing.  Among those who escaped was Levi Preston,  afterwards known as Captain Levi Preston.
I hear this just may be
Capt. Levi Preston
(In 1843)  I  "interviewed"  him as to what he did and thought sixty  (eight)  years before,  on April 19,  1775;  and now, fifty two years later,  I make my report---a little belated perhaps,  but not too late,  I trust,  for the morning papers!
At that time,  of course,  I knew all about the American Revolution---far more than I do know! 
With an assurance passing that even of a modern interviewer---if that were possible---I began: 
"Captain Preston,  why did you go to the Concord fight,  the 19th of April,  1775?"
The old man bowed beneath the weight of years,  raised himself upright,  and turning to me said,  "Why did I go?"
"Yes,"  I replied;  "my histories tell me you men of the Revolution took up arms against  'intolerable oppressions.' " 

"What were they?  Oppressions?  I didn't feel them."
"What,  were you not oppressed by the Stamp Act?"
"I never saw one of those stamps,  and always understood that Governor Bernard put them all in Castle William.  I am certain I never paid a penny for one of them."
"Well,  what then about the tea-tax?"
"Tea-tax!  I never drank a drop of the stuff;  the boys threw it all overboard."
"Then I suppose you had been reading Harrington or Sydney and Locke about the eternal principles of liberty."
"Never heard of 'em.  We only read the Bible,  the Catechism,  Watt's Psalms and Hymns,  and the Almanack."
"Well then,  what was the matter?  And what did you mean in going to the fight?"
"Young man,  what we meant in going for those red-coats was this:  we always had governed ourselves,  and we always meant to.  They  (the British)  didn't mean we should."
And that,  gentlemen,  is the ultimate philosophy of the American Revolution.  It correctly assigns its underlying cause, it explains and accounts for the action of the patriotic party.  No other words known to me ever expressed the actual condition of affairs with more historic truth or more tersely.  For the attitude of the colonists was not that of slaves seeking liberty,  but of freemen---freemen for five generations---resisting political servitude.
Few events in the world's history have been of more tremendous consequences than those of the 19th of April,  1775,  (when)  no second morn will rise.  Its sun once risen never set.  It still rides high and clear.  Its prescribed arc is not through the visible heavens,  but over the ages.

I found this account of the every-man's actual opinion of why they were fighting the Redcoats so interesting,  and his comments on the Stamp Act and the tax-on-tea brings to light some of the differing views the average colonists may have had that we in the 21st century have previously not been aware of.  Not that Preston speaks for everyone of his time,  but it is interesting to note his sort of blase' attitude toward some of the causes of the Revolutionary War - an opinion rarely heard.
But can you just imagine having the opportunity to speak to a Revolutionary War soldier - one who was actually there?  Oh the history we would have at our fingertips!  As I continue to dig into the past,  I come across gems such as this, and it's  *almost*  like spending time in the company of the people of the founding generation themselves.
History revealed.

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The powder horn of James Pike
 In the winter of 1775-76,  a New England soldier named James Pike made himself a powder horn.  It was a work of art,  elaborately decorated in an old tradition of Yankee horn carving.  On one side he carved his name and a scene that explained why he took up arms in the American Revolution.  It showed the start of the war at Lexington and Concord as an attack by  "Regulars,  the Aggressors"  against  "Provincials,  Defending."  The first musket ball of the Revolution appeared in mid-flight,  carefully marked with an arrow to show that a Redcoat had fired it.  Directly in its path was an image labeled the  "Liberty Tree."
This was the information I read from David Hackett Fischer's book,  "Liberty and Freedom." However,  as I continued to research Mr.  Pike,  by way of the book  "Landmarks of the Revolution"  by Gary B. Nash,  I learned that the James Pike battle depiction on his powder horn is from the Battle of Breeds Hill/Bunker Hill and not the Battle of Lexington & Concord.
Colonists under the Liberty Tree

I have found no definitive answer to which is the actual battle shown on his powder horn,  but the idea that James Pike thought of Liberty as a tree - the infamous Liberty Tree  (which is,  perhaps,  a bit strange to our modern idea of what liberty is) - was very clear to those who lived in New England at the time.  The Liberty Tree was a famous elm tree that stood in the city of Boston near Boston Common in the years before the Revolution.  In 1765,  many colonists in Boston staged the first act of defiance against the British government and its Stamp Act at the tree,  and it became a rallying point for the growing resistance to the rule of Britain over the American colonies over the following decade.  Loyalist Nathaniel Coffin Jr.,  who took a prominent part on the side of the government,  caused the Liberty Tree to be cut down in August 1775.  Afterward, Coffin knew he must flee or risk being tarred and feathered.  There was a bounty of one thousand dollars placed upon his capture. 
An original 18th century
powder horn now inside
the Henry Ford Museum.

He made it to Nova Scotia,  and then ultimately to London,  England,  where he passed away in 1831.

As for our friend,  James Pike,  we find that he filed for a Revolutionary War pension in 1833,  and on his application he related that  "I joined the army at Cambridge...I was one of the militia or provincials,  as we were then called...I worked all night  (at Breed's Hill)  digging with a shovel preparing the entrenchments...I was among the last of the Americans that retreated."

By the way,  powder horns have become very fascinating to me,  and my interest in them as an important part of American history has grown tremendously.  As much as I enjoy seeing the original powder horns that helped us to win independence,  I also love seeing those that have been replicated from originals as well, and marvel at the way the modern craftsmen can copy the scroll and designs almost exact to the originals from a couple centuries ago.  For me as a living historian,  it's accessories such as this that can accent my presentations at reenactments,  and, I must say,  they are kind of cool to have around to show my friends when they come by the house.
In fact,  not long ago,  I found a few horns for sale while at a living history show.  Oh,  I would have loved to purchase every single one,  for it's these kinds of items that help me to keep that  "spirit of '76"  feeling alive.

Ahhh...too bad I couldn't buy them all...

But I did find one that  'spoke to me'  and,  well,  I did purchase it.  In the picture below we see a few of the powder horns that had been replicated from originals,  and I almost immediately spotted the one that seemed to scream  "buy me!"   to me:
As I moved along the rows and rows of tables covered with literally thousands of different reenacting collectibles while at the Kalamazoo Living History Show,  I came across this collection of  powder horns. 
Now,  even though I do not own a musket from the Revolutionary War period,  I admire the  "art"  and love the historic presence of  the powder horns.
One in particular here caught my eye - - - 
Can you guess which one...?
Here is the original  William Waller's Powder Horn
Bearing several popular slogans of the War of Independence,  including LIBERTY or DEATH,  APPEAL TO HEAVEN,  and the sobering KILL or be KILLD,  this engraved powder horn was carried by a Virginia rifleman named William Waller,  who was captured by British and Hessian forces after the fall of Fort Washington near New York City on November 16,  1776.
(picture from the Museum of the American Revolution)
This horn is inscribed with William Waller’s name and the phrase  “Liberty or Death.”  This might refer to Patrick Henry’s famous 1775 speech,  in which he urged fellow Virginians to actively prepare for war, as he believed peace was no longer an option.  While his speech was not transcribed,  those present remembered his closing words,  “Give me liberty,  or give me death!”  Waller’s powder horn is also inscribed with other phrases mentioned above,  all surrounded by flowers and vines.
Though Waller was captured by the British while defending Fort Washington,  near New York City,  he was released and continue to fight for the Americans and served at the Battles of Germantown and Monmouth.
And here is the replica that I purchased:
Not bad, eh?
I know it's not exact,  but it is as close as any out there. 
And no matter,  for I am very satisfied with it and,  like I said,  
believe it will go well with my Christ  "Old North"  Church 
"lanthorn"  - a replica of the two that were  "shewn"  as a signal 
on the night of April 18,  1775.  The replicas were made for America's Bicentennial celebrations during the years 1975 and 1976:

The duplicate lantern made in 1975 by the Concord Historical Society.
It's almost like I am creating my own mini-museum of early American history!
Why,  yes,  I am  a proud patriot...and love having my history surrounding me.
As for powder horns,  here is a little history of this once so important musket accessory:
the powder horn was a container for gunpowder,  and was generally created from cow,  ox,  or buffalo horn.  The wide mouth was used for refilling,  while the powder was dispensed from the narrow point.  The horn was typically held by a long strap and slung over the shoulder.  The inside and outside of a powder horn were often polished to make the horn translucent so that the soldier would be able to see how much powder he had left.
The use of animal horn along with nonferrous metal parts,  such as tin,  aluminum,  copper,  nickel,  or even an alloy such as brass,  ensured that the powder would not be detonated by sparks during storage and loading.  Horn was also naturally waterproof and already hollow inside.
"KILL or be KILLD"
In America,  a number of period horns dating from the French and Indian Wars throughout the American Revolution and beyond have been preserved in private and other collections. Many decorated examples shed light on the life and history of the individuals that used them, and can be classified as a medium of folk art. 

Powder horns were often decorated usually
with engraving,  making a form of scrimshaw,  
which was sometimes supplemented with color.

Powder horns play as much a role in our history as the Brown Bess,  cocked hat,  and the local period taverns.  But,  like so many other items that were very important to those who lived in the 18th century,  they are almost lost to time.  Thank God for the historic craftsmen who make fantastic replicas of these ancient necessities,  and also historic reenactors for keeping such items in use for the modern public to see and learn from,  for few can bring the past to life better than the serious historic reenactors.  Oh,  it's not perfect - we are 21st century people,  mind you - but most of us strive to continue to reach that ultimate goal.
Yep,  count on living historians to bring the past to life right before your eyes!
Friends in Time
(picture courtesy of Lisa Buttigieg LiGreci)

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When I saw this meme,  I knew I had to research it to see if it was true or not.  You see,  unfortunately,  too many people believe,  without question,  that memes are fact-filled tidbits of true information when,  in all actuality,  most are usually lame attempts to convince people from  "the other side"  they are wrong in their political,  historical,  or religious beliefs.
Well,  guess what?
This one was pretty much spot on:
Holy Smokes!  This can't be true!
Aye,  but it is!
On April 19,  1775,  British forces were returning to Boston from the Battles of Lexington & Concord, the opening engagements of the war.  On their march,  they were continually shot at by colonial militiamen.
Whittemore was in his fields when he spotted an approaching British relief brigade.  Whittemore loaded his musket and ambushed the British Grenadiers of the 47th Regiment of Foot  from behind a nearby stone wall,  killing one soldier.  He then drew his dueling pistols,  killed a second and mortally wounded a third.  By the time Whittemore had fired his third shot,  a British detachment had reached his position;  Whittemore drew his sword and attacked.  He was subsequently shot in the face,  bayoneted numerous times,  and left for dead in a pool of blood.  He was found by colonial forces trying to load his musket to resume the fight.  He was taken to a doctor in Medford,  who perceived no hope for his survival.  However,  Whittemore not only recovered,  but he lived another 18 years until dying of natural causes at the age of 96.
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The Chocolate Girl' from 1745
by Jean-Etienne Liotard shows a
fine example of servant clothing
for women.
I have a wonderful book,  Wenches, Wives, and Servant Girls,  that was written by Don N. Hagist,  and the pages inside the covers contain a wealth of information about some of the,  shall we say,  lower class of the 18th century population - those folks who may have been indentured servants or slaves  (or sometimes even the wives of an abusive husband),  and many of them ran away from their masters. 
Runaway slaves and indentured servants were a persistent problem for landowners in Colonial America.  They fled for a multitude of reasons including getting away from abusive masters,  to take a break from work,  to search out family members from whom they had been separated, or even to start a life with a true love.  Some servants were also lured away by neighbors attempting to steal labor. 
As early as 1643,  the General Assembly passed laws that established penalties for runaway slaves and servants,  regulated their movement,  identified multiple offenders  (by branding them or cutting their hair),  and provided rewards for their capture.
The best means of having their  "property"  returned was for the masters to take out advertisements in the local papers and broadsides and offer rewards,  and each of these advertisements gives a verbal image of the clothing worn,  speech patterns,  and physical descriptions of the runaways.
There is no way of knowing just how effective the ads were,  but I will surmise that since there were thousands of them taken out in the 18th and early 19th centuries,  we can guess that at least some of the so-called fugitives were apprehended.
For instance, in the Pennsylvania Gazette of July 12,  1775,  we find this:
"Twenty shillings reward. Runaway,  last night, from the subscriber,  an indented Irish servant girl,  named Nancy Mackey,  alias Munks;  she is of a middle stature,  light brown hair,  has a remarkable sharp nose,  is pitted with the smallpox,  and speaks a little with the brogue in the pronunciation of some words;  she had on,  and took with her,  a calicoe gown,  a short gown of ditto,  black Barcelona handkerchief,  a striped lincey petticoat,  a black rattinet quilted ditto,  and new black taffaty bonnet;  she will,  very probably,  endeavor to pass for a free woman,  but as she had not yet served the time of her second indenture."

And from the June 13,  1774 Pennsylvania Packet:
Eight Dollars Reward. Run away last night,  from the subscriber,  two Dutch servants;  the one a woman,  named Joanna Vanderstien,  much pitted with the small pox,  has a sour down look,  the middle finger of her right hand has the end mashed off;  had on when she went away,  an India calico gown,  blue and white striped lincey petticoat,  black Persian bonnet,  and good shoes,  she took with her two striped short gowns,  two white aprons,  and other cloaths that cannot be described:  She has a constant bad cough attending her.  The other a lad,  named John Valentine Kimberger,  between 18 and 19 years of age,  a clever smart looking boy,  has light brown curled hair,  is a little pitted with the small pox,  and when spoke to pretty quickly seems to be frightened;  had on a light coloured fustian frock coat,  a brown cotton velvet jacket,  coarse white shirt,  coarse trowsers,  and good new shoes;  took with him a pair of light coloured knit breeches,  a good white shirt,  several coarse old ones,  and a white dimity jacket.  Neither of the above servants speak good English.  Whoever takes up and secures the said servants,  so that their master may have them again, shall have the above Reward,  and reasonable charges,  paid by Davis Bevin.

Note that each description for the three runaways mentions pitted with the smallpox.  In our modern times we never hear of anyone having any kind of pox,  including chicken pox  (which I had a very bad case of back in 1971),  so this is one thing we don't even think about.  With all of our modern medicine and skin creams, etc.,  one rarely finds anyone today pitted with anything.  Yet, advertisement after advertisement listed in Hagist's book will include pitted with the smallpox.  In the 18th century,  smallpox was a major epidemic disease nearly the world over  (except Australia),  and millions died from it.
Those who survived almost always had the  'souvenir'  pit marks upon their skin,  including,  of course,  their faces  (not unlike the scars left from scratching chicken pox in our own time).   
Joseph Plumb Martin,  a Revolutionary War soldier,  gives us a bit of insight on what it was like for him to have to deal with the pox in May of 1777. 
18th century cartoon about the smallpox inoculation
"I was soon...ordered off,  in company with about four hundred others of the Connecticut forces,  to a set of old barracks,  a mile or two distant in the Highlands,  to be innoculated with the small pox.  We arrived at and cleaned out the barracks,  and after two or three days received the infection,  which was on the last day of May.  We had a guard of Massachusetts troops to attend us. 
I had the small pox favorably as did the rest,  generally;  we lost none;  but it was more by good luck,  or rather a kind Providence interfering, than by my good conduct that I escaped with life. 
I left the hospital on the sixteenth day after I was inoculated,  and soon after joined the regiment,  when I was attacked with a severe turn of the dysentery,  and immediately after recovering from that,  I broke out all over with boils;  good old Job could scarcely have been worse handled by them than I was;—I had eleven at one time upon my arm,  each as big as half a hen's egg,  and the rest of my carcass was much in the same condition.  I attributed it to my not having been properly physicked after the small pox;  in consequence of our hospital stores being in about the same state as the commissarys."
I love the line good old Job could scarcely have been worse handled by them than I was - Job being from the Bible.  Yes,  Joseph Martin certainly went through a lot,  it seems.  If you are interested in reading of Martin's escapades while he was in the military during the Revolutionary War,  check out his exploits in his book HERE.
And to get a well-done look at 18th century immunizations,  watch the following clip:

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It is of my opinion that the John Adams HBO series,  while not 100% accurate,  is the best period film out there about our founding generation and the birth of our nation.  One does get a strong feel for the times while watching it,  especially for the more well-to-do class.  It was while watching this series that I became interested in learning a bit more about his daughter,  Nabby,  and of the way the medical practitioners of the time dealt with her breast cancer.
As I researched the subject,  I found a very detailed account of what that poor woman went through upon finding a lump in her breast.  It was written by James Olson,  an academic and Pulitzer Prize nominee author.  What I am presenting here is an essay that comes from Olson’s book Bathsheba’s Breast:  Women,  Cancer,  and History.
I must prepare the reader of what they are about to read - - if you are like me and put yourself heart,  mind,  and soul into historical situations,  you may find this a very difficult and heart-wrenching read:
John Adams thought that this portrait,
painted by Mather Brown in 1785,
captured his daughter's 
drollery and modesty
Perhaps the disease had started out as a tiny dimple.  On a man's chin it would have looked rugged and distinguished.  On a woman's cheek it might have been called a  "beauty mark."  It was on her left breast and Abigail  "Nabby"  Adams wondered what it was.  She had never noticed it before.  Perhaps it was just another sign of age,  an indicator that she was not a young woman anymore.  Actually the dimple was not really the problem.  Beneath the dimple,  buried an inch below the skin,  a small malignant tumor attached itself to surface tissues and drew them in,  like a sinking ship pulling water down its own whirlpool.  Nabby was forty-two years old.
At first she did not give it much thought,  noticing it now and then when she bathed or dressed.  Nor did she talk about it.  She was a shy,  somewhat withdrawn woman,  quiet and cautious in her expressions,  most comfortable with people who guarded their feelings.  She blushed easily and rarely laughed out loud,  allowing only a demure,  half-smile to crease her face when she was amused.  She had a pleasant disposition and a mellow temperament,  both endearing to family and friends.  Nabby was a striking woman,  with long,  red hair,  a round face,  deep-blue eyes,  and a creamy,  porcelain complexion.  She commanded respect,  not because of an aggressive personality but simply because of the quality of her mind and her unfailing dignity.
She was born in Quincy,  Massachusetts,  in 1766.  Her parents named her Abigail Adams,  but they began calling her  "Nabby"  when she was still an infant.  Nabby had an extraordinary childhood.  Her father was John Adams,  the future president of the United States,  and her mother Abigail Adams,  the most prominent woman in early American society.  Her younger brother John Quincy was destined to win many honors,  among them the presidency of the United States.  From the time of her birth,  Nabby's parents busied themselves with colonial politics,  eventually playing leading roles in the American Revolution.  They raised her on a steady diet of political talk about freedom,  liberty,  rights,  despotism,  and foreign policy.  Nabby absorbed it all.
An only daughter,  she enjoyed the special attentions of her father,  who felt the need to protect and pamper her.  Abigail doted on her,  dressing her up in the latest fashions when she was little and counseling her when she was an adolescent.  Their relationship evolved into a deep friendship.  Nabby took it all in stride,  never becoming spoiled or self-indulgent.  She was even-handed,  thick-skinned,  and unafraid of responsibility.
In 1783,  when Congress appointed her father as minister to England,  Nabby was seventeen-years-old.  The family took up residence in a house on Grosvener Square in London.  Caught up in a whirlwind of social and political activity,  they met King George III at court and other prominent politicians at parties and banquets common to the life of an ambassador.  After a few months,  Nabby became acquainted with William Smith,  a thirty-year-old veteran of the Continental Army and secretary to the American legation in London.  A dashing,  handsome figure,  Smith raced around London in a two-seated carriage,  the eighteenth-century equivalent to a modern sports car.  He was bold and impetuous,  inspired by courage and limited by poor judgment.  Because of his work with the U.S. legation,  and his role as secretary to Minister John Adams,  he saw a great deal of the Adams family,  and Nabby fell secretly in love with him.  Drawn to Nabby's beauty,  grace,  and intelligence,  he soon felt the same way about her.  They married in June 1786,  after a courtship which John and Abigail Adams felt was too short.  They accepted it,  however,  because  "a soldier is always more expeditious in his courtships than other men."
Here is a pretty accurate looking Nabby Adams
Smith as played by actress Sarah Polley in the
excellent John Adams HBO mini-series
But Colonel William Smith was a soldier without a war,  a has-been at the age of thirty,  and Nabby,  an innocent victim of what her brother John Quincy called  "fortune's treacherous game,"  faced a difficult life.  Colonel Smith was not cruel.  In fact,  he always loved and cared for Nabby and their three children.  With a stoicism that would have made the most devout Puritan proud,  she accepted her fate and made a life for her family wherever Smith settled.  The problem was that Smith never really settled down.  He spent more money than he ever earned,  and Nabby worried constantly about bills and the family reputation.  Early in the new century,  Smith tried his hand at real estate speculation,  but he lost everything.  In 1809,  when Nabby first noticed the lump in her breast,  they were living on the edge of the frontier,  on a small farm along the Chenango River in western New York,  where Smith spent his days behind a walking plow and a mule.
Nabby was a well-informed woman, and breast cancer was as much a dread disease in the early 1800s as it is today.  No records exist describing her initial reaction to the lump,  but it is safe to say that concern about the dimple flared into gut-twisting fear.  Like so many women,  then and today,  she tried to ignore the lump,  hoping that in the busy routines of running a small farm and household she would not have time to think about it.  But cancer has a way of asserting itself,  finally obliterating even the most elaborate denials.  Nabby was no exception.  The lump grew ominously,  in spite of the efforts of local healers and their potions.  She wrote home to John and Abigail Adams in February 1811 that her doctor had discovered  "a cancer in my breast."  As soon as they received the letter,  the Adams wrote back urging her to come to Boston for medical advice.
In June 1811,  with the lump visible to the naked eye,  a desperate Nabby returned to Massachusetts,  accompanied by her husband and daughter Caroline.  As soon as she arrived in Quincy,  she wrote to Benjamin Rush,  describing her condition and seeking his advice.  When Abigail Adams first looked at her daughter's breast,  she found the condition  "allarming."  The large tumor distended the breast into a misshapen mass.  John and Abigail took Nabby to see several physicians in Boston,  and they were cautiously reassuring,  telling her that the situation and her general health were  "so good as not to threaten any present danger."  They prescribed hemlock pills to  "poison the disease."
Benjamin Rush was one of the major
political leaders who participated in the
American Revolution,  and he also signed the
Declaration of Independence in 1776.
As a physician,  he was very well respected,
and he worked toward bringing better health
and hygiene facilities to the common people
Soon after those reassuring examinations,  however,  the family received an unsettling reply from Benjamin Rush.  In her initial letter,  Nabby told Rush that the tumor was large and growing,  but that it was  "movable"--not attached to the chest wall.  Rush found the news encouraging,  as would most cancer specialists today.  Malignant tumors which are  "movable"  are better candidates for surgery,  since it is more likely that the surgeon can get what is termed a  "clean margin"--a border of non-cancerous tissue surrounding the tumor--reducing the odds that the cancer will recur or spread.  Knowing that Nabby had already traveled from western New York to Boston to seek medical advice,  Rush wrote to John and Abigail,  telling them to break his news gently to Nabby:
“I shall begin my letter by replying to your daughter's.  I prefer giving my opinion and advice in her case in this way.  You and Mrs. Adams may communicate it gradually and in such a manner as will be least apt to distress and alarm her.
After the experience of more than 50 years in cases similar to hers,  I must protest against all local applications and internal medicines for relief.  They now and then cure,  but in 19 cases out of 20 in tumors in the breast they do harm or suspend the disease until it passes beyond that time in which the only radical remedy is ineffectual.  This remedy is the knife.  From her account of the moving state of the tumor,  it is now in a proper situation for the operation.  Should she wait till it suppurates or even inflames much,  it may be too late... I repeat again,  let there be no delay in flying to the knife.  Her time of life calls for expedition in this business... I sincerely sympathize with her and with you and your dear Mrs. Adams in this family affliction,  but it will be but for a few minutes if she submits to have it extirpated,  and if not,  it will probably be a source of distress and pain to you all for years to come.  It shocks me to think of the consequences of procrastination.”
Mastectomy was Nabby's only chance,  but first the family had to convince William Smith,  who was in an advanced state of denial.  When he learned of Rush's recommendation,  he reacted indignantly,  heading for libraries to learn whatever he could about the disease and hoping to spare her the operation.  He convinced himself for a while that perhaps the tumor would just go away,  that it was not so bad.  Nabby's mother had more faith in Rush and wrote to Smith:  "If the operation is necessary as the Dr. states it to be,  and as I fear it is,  the sooner it is done the better provided Mrs. Smith can bring herself along,  as I hope she will consent to it."  She even asked her son-in-law to be with  "Nabby through the painful tryal."  Smith finally agreed.  They scheduled the operation for October 8,  1811.
When Copley painted this portrait of 
Joseph Warren in about 1765, 
Warren was a respected physician in 
Boston and just beginning to participate 
in the movement that would lead 
to the American Revolution.
The day before the surgery,  John Warren,  Boston's most skilled surgeon,  met with the family in Quincy.  He gave Nabby a brief physical examination and told her what to expect.  His description was nightmarishly terrifying,  enough to make everybody reconsider the decision.  But Rush's warning--"It shocks me to think of the consequences of procrastination in her case"--stuck in their minds.  Nabby had no choice if she ever hoped to live to see her grandchildren.
The surgery took place in an upstairs bedroom of the Adams home in Quincy,  Massachusetts.  It was as bad as they had all feared.  John Warren was assisted by his son Joseph,  who was destined to become a leading physician in his own right,  and several other physicians.  Exact details of the operation are not available,  but it was certainly typical of early nineteenth century surgery.  Warren's surgical instruments,  lying in a wooden box on a table,  were quite simple--a large fork with two,  six-inch prongs sharpened to a needle point,  a wooden-handled razor,  and a pile of compress bandages.  In the corner of the room a small oven,  full of red-hot coals,  heated a flat,  thick, heavy iron spatula.
Nabby entered into the room as if dressed for a Sunday service.  She was a proper woman and acted the part.  The doctors were professionally attired in frock coats,  with shirts and ties.  Modesty demanded that Nabby unbutton only the top of her dress and slip it off her left shoulder,  exposing the diseased breast but little else.  She remained fully clothed.  Since they knew nothing of bacteria in the early 1800s,  there were no gloves or surgical masks,  no need for Warren to scrub his hands or disinfect Nabby's chest before the operation or cover his own hair.  Warren had her sit down and lean back in a reclining chair.  He belted her waist,  legs,  feet,  and right arm to the chair and had her raise her left arm above her head so that the pectoralis major muscle would push the breast up.  A physician took Nabby's raised arm by the elbow and held it,  while another stood behind her,  pressing her shoulders and neck to the chair.
Warren then straddled Nabby's knees,  leaned over her semi-reclined body,  and went to work. 
He took the two-pronged fork and thrust it deep into the breast.  With his left hand,  he held onto the fork and raised up on it,  lifting the breast from the chest wall.  He reached over for the large razor and started slicing into the base of the breast,  moving from the middle of her chest toward her left side. 
Here we see the surgeons tools 
and procedure Nabby faced.

Photo courtesy of Wellcome Images
When the breast was completely severed,  Warren lifted it away from Nabby's chest with the fork.  But the tumor was larger and more widespread than he had anticipated.  Hard knots of tumor could be felt in the lymph nodes under her left arm.  He razored in there as well and pulled out nodes and tumor.  Nabby grimaced and groaned,  flinching and twisting in the chair,  with blood staining her dress and Warren's shirt and pants.  Her hair matted in sweat.  Abigail,  William,  and Caroline turned away from the gruesome struggle.  To stop the bleeding,  Warren pulled a red-hot spatula from the oven and applied it several times to the wound,  cauterizing the worst bleeding points.  With each touch,  steamy wisps of smoke hissed into the air and filled the room with the distinct smell of burning flesh.  Warren then sutured the wounds,  bandaged them,  stepped back from Nabby,  and mercifully told her that it was over.  The whole procedure had taken less than twenty-five minutes,  but it took more than an hour to dress the wounds.  Abigail and Caroline then went to the surgical chair and helped Nabby pull her dress back over her left shoulder as modesty demanded.  The four surgeons remained astonished that she had endured pain so stoically.
Nabby endured a long recovery.  She did not suffer from post-surgical infections,  but for months after the operation she was weak and feeble,  barely able to get around.  She kept her limp left arm resting in a sling.  Going back to the wilds of western New York was out of the question,  so she stayed in Quincy with her mother,  hoping to regain strength.  What sustained all of them during the ordeal was the faith that the operation had cured the cancer.  Within two weeks of the surgery,  Dr. Rush wrote John Adams congratulating him  "in the happy issue of the operation performed upon Mrs. Smith's breast...her cure will be radical and durable.  I consider her as rescued from a premature grave."  Abigail wrote to a friend that although the operation had been a  "furnace of affliction...what a blessing it was to have extirpated so terrible an enemy."  In May 1812,  seven months after the surgery,  Nabby Smith felt well again.  She returned home to the small farm along the Chenango River.
But she was not cured. Breast cancer patients whose tumors have already spread to the lymph nodes do not have good survival rates,  even with modern surgery,  radiation treatments,  and chemotherapy.  In Nabby's case,  long before Warren performed the mastectomy,  the cancer had already spread.  Nabby suspected something was wrong within a few weeks of arriving home in New York.  She began to complain of headaches and pain in her spine and abdomen.  A local physician attributed the discomfort to rheumatism.  The diagnosis relieved some of her anxiety,  since she was already worried that the pain had something to do with cancer.
But it was not  "the rhemuatism."  That became quite clear in 1813 when she suffered a local recurrence of the tumors.  When Warren amputated her breast and excised tissues from her axilla,  he thought he had  "gotten it all."  But cancer is a cellular disease,  and millions of invisible,  microscopically-tiny malignant cancers were left behind.  By the spring of 1813 some of them had grown into tumors of their own--visible in the scar where Nabby's breast had once been and on the skin as well.  Her doctor in New York changed the diagnosis:  the headaches and now excruciating body pains were not rheumatism.  The cancer was back--everywhere.
William Stephen Smith,
husband of Nabby Adams
She declined steadily in the late spring,  finally telling her husband that she  "wanted to die in her father's house."  William Smith wrote John and Abigail in May that the cancer had returned and that Nabby wanted  "to spend her state of convalescence within the vortex of your kindness and assiduities than elsewhere."  The colonel was back in denial.  Since the country was in the midst of the War of 1812,  he told his in-laws he had to go to Washington,  D.C. for a military appointment,  and that he would return to Quincy as soon as Congress adjourned.  John and Abigail prepared Nabby's room and waited for her arrival.  The trip was unimaginably painful--more than three hundred miles in a carriage,  over bumpy roads where each jolt stabbed into her.  Nabby's son John drove the carriage.  When they finally reached Quincy on July 26,  she was suffering from grinding,  constant pain.  Her appearance shocked John and Abigail.  She was gaunt and thin,  wracked by a deep cough,  and her eyes had a moist,  rheumy look.  She groaned and sometimes screamed with every movement.  Huge,  dark circles shadowed her cheeks,  and a few minutes after she settled into bed,  the smell of death fouled the air.
Nabby's pain was so unbearable,  and misery so unmitigated,  that Abigail slipped into a depression so deep she could not stand even to visit her room.  It was John Adams who ministered to their dying daughter,  feeding her,  cleaning her and seeing to her personal needs,  combing her hair and holding her hand.  He tried to administer pain killers,  but nothing seemed to help.  Smith returned from Washington,  and the deathwatch commenced.  On August 9,  Nabby's breathing became shallow and the passage of time between breaths lengthened.  The family gathered around her bedside.  She drew her last breath early in the afternoon.
Nabby's father, John Adams
A few days later, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson,  John Adams wrote:  "Your Friend,  my only Daughter,  expired,  Yesterday Morning in the Arms of Her Husband her Son,  her Daughter,  her Father and Mother,  her Husbands two Sisters and two of her Nieces,  in the 49th.  Year of Age, 46 of which She was the healthiest and firmest of Us all:  Since which,  She has been a monument to Suffering and to Patience."  Jefferson understood his friend's pain:  "I know the depth of the affliction it has caused,  and can sympathize with it the more sensibly,  inasmuch as there is no degree of affliction produced by the loss of those dear to us,  while experience has not taught me to estimate...time and silence are the only medicine,  and these but assuage,  they never can suppress,  the deep drawn sigh which recollection forever brings up,  until recollection and life are extinguished together."

And over 200 years later, this touching story can still make one weep,  for time,  though it can heal wounds,  does not take away the sympathy and empathy we can have for our fellow human beings,  no matter how long the span.

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Well,  there you go.  A few stories and other bits about some of the so-called minor players in early stages of our becoming a Republic,  though to me they are not minor at all,  for they truly do fill out the picture,  giving us more depth to the past.
No,  we mustn't ever forget names and dates,  but,  rather,  we must add to them,  otherwise they are just names and dates.

Until next time, see you in time.

I have written many postings about life in the past, whether in war time or about the average citizens. I have included some links here of a few I thought might easily tie into this week's posting.
So, for your reading pleasure:
Diaries, journals, letters, newspapers/broadsides, remembrances...this is what I used to garner these very personal stories from those who were there - actual witnesses, men & women, of the Battle of Lexington & Concord.
Their tales will draw you into their world.

Modern historians like to relegate Paul Revere as more fable than fact, no thanks to Longfellow's poem. But this man deserves his place in our history, and rightfully so, for his ride was as important as nearly any other occurrence of his time.
I have searched multiple sources to find the true story of Paul Revere's Midnight Ride, and put it all here.
I think you just might be surprised at what Revere actually did.

Sarah and Rachel: The Wives of Paul Revere
Paul Revere was married twice and, between his two wives, he fathered 16 children.
What I attempted to do in this post was to find virtually everything available about these two Mrs. Revere's. I think I succeeded - -

With Liberty and Justice For All: The Fight for Independence at the Henry Ford Museum
An amazing collection of original Revolutionary War artifacts on display for all the world to see, telling the story of America's fight for Independence. An original Stamp Act notification. A letter written by Benedict Arnold. George Washington's camp bed, a coffee pot made by Paul Revere, a writing desk that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson...yeah...this is some great stuff here!

Declaring Independence: The Spirits of '76
Something very special happened almost 250 years ago, but is that story being promoted?
Come on a time-travel visit to colonial America during that hot summer of 1776 and learn, first hand, of the accounts on how we were making a new and independent nation.

Travel and Taverns
The long air-conditioned (or heated) car ride. Motels without a pool! Can we stop at McDonalds? I'm hungry!
Ahhhh....modern travelers never had it so good.
I've always had a fascination of travel back in the day, and I decided to find out as much as I could about them.
I wasn't disappointed - - - I dug through my books, went to a historic research library, 'surfed the net' (does anyone say that anymore?), and asked docents who work at historic taverns questions, looking for the tiniest bits of information to help me to understand what it was like to travel and stay at a tavern in the colonial times.
This post is the culmination of all of that research.
Our country's founding relied greatly on the tavern.

In the Good Old Colony Days
A concise pictorial to everyday life in America's colonies. And I do mean "pictorial," for there are over 80 photos included, covering nearly every aspect of colonial life.
I try to touch on most major topics of the period with links to read more detailed accounts.
This just may be my very favorite of all my postings. If it isn't, it's in the top 2!

Living By Candle Light: The Light at its Brightest
Could you survive living in the era before electric lights or even the 19th century style oil lamps?
Do you know how many candles you would need for a year?
Do you know what it was like to make candles right from scratch, or what it was like to visit your local chandler?
That's what this posting is about!

We've seen pictures and drawings of these unusual looking homes, once very popular in the 18th century. In fact, John Adams was born in one. But have you ever been inside an actual saltbox house?
Are you interested in leaning how farmers of the colonial period lived?
Your answers all lie within - - - -

I have never seen such authenticity and accuracy put to film in the way it is done here. From the clothing to the sets to the accessories, and, in a strong way, to the language used. I swear it is like peering through a window to the past.
A must see for any student of colonial history.

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