Hulling cacao beans

Mortar and pestle grinding

Rolling out (further grinding)










We started the morning (3/28/17) at Colonial Williamsburg to check out the chocolate making process. It is a long, time-consuming process. Because of this, at the time, most chocolate was purchased in the stores.  The chocolate was produced in chocolate factories in the North located in Boston, Newport, Philadelphia, and New York.  Those who were extremely wealthy (or had a love for chocolate worth the sacrifice) had their own chocolate stones and employed slaves to make their chocolate. There were 3 chocolate stones in Virginia–the Governor’s Palace, Thomas Jefferson’s, and Lee Hall. In the 1700’s, most cacao beans were bought from the Caribbean. Today, we mostly get it from Africa. Colonial Williamsburg gets theirs from Mars Company, which I think is cool!

Preparing the Massachusetts flag

From there, we headed to Yorktown where it was Massachusetts Day.  I expected the opening ceremonies to be bigger than they were.  They basically consisted of opening comments (welcome) and a member of the National Park’s staff putting Massacusetts’ puzzle piece into a joined snake from the Ben Franklin “Join or Die” image, symbolizing the unity of the colonists in joining the nation.  After that, we followed the members of the fife and drum corps as they led an army of middle school students to the artillery area for an opening ceremony.  After comments introducing the speakers and events for the afternoon, they raised the Massachusetts flag over the encampment.  It was a cool celebration, but not necessarily something I’d go early again to see.

We spent the afternoon listening to four talks.  While I will not try to cover four hours of lectures in a blog, I will merely point out a few of the fun facts I learned from each.

John Mascarene’s Custom’s papers

First up was Curtis White, who presented Customs enforcement in Salem, Massachusetts: Prelude to War 1760-1775.  Most of his talk focused on John Mascarene, who went from being a glass maker to a customs official.  Most customs officers received a minimal salary from the crown and made up their money from fees.  One of the most interesting discoveries Mr. White made was the rules for customs officers.  Interestingly enough, he found the John Mascarene’s own papers.


Gage’s order for destruction of Colonial property





The second lecture was Leslie Obleschuk’s on The Battles of Lexington and Concord. One of the most fascinating facts here was that when Gage gave orders to march on Lexington and Concord, he gave orders how to destroy the property taken from the armory.  He’s very specific that the musket balls were to be disposed of by degrees–scattered in fields, etc.  Instead, they dumped the 500 pounds of ammunition they confiscated into the mill pond, where it was easily recovered later.  I’m sure this had to do with the British army’s speedy retreat out of town.

Ms. Obleschuk also explained the vital choice behind the shot heard round the world.  John Buttrick (father of 10 kids and Member of the Committee of Correspondence) was the commanding officer at the North Bridge. While positioned on the high ground outside of town, the men saw smoke coming from the center of town.  They assumed the worst–that the British had set the town on fire.  Buttrick has to make the choice between staying put and facing the British.  They decide to face off. The British are tearing planks off the bridge, and a shot rings out.  Buttrick orders his men to fire–even though firing on the King’s troops is treason.  Both sides have a “Now what?” monent.  The day has not gone the way either side had planned.  Finally, British soldiers who are exhausted (having left at 10 pm the night before) decided to leave.  Ms. Obleschuk believes Concord was the true “Shot heard round the world” for two reasons.  First, Emerson (who coined the phrase) had a grandfather who lived in a house directly by the North Bridge.  No doubt he gave Emerson an account of what happened that day.  Additionally, this was the first time an American commander gave a direct order to fire against British troops.  While this wasn’t a point from which they could not turn back, the reality is, they didn’t.

Howe’s plan of attack

The third and fourth talks were given by Garrett Cloer.  He began with Joseph Warren and the Battle of Bunker Hill.   While Joseph Warren is an amazing character and often overlooked, I was most fascinated by John Stark and the New Hampshire boys (whom I’m sure they’ll discuss on New Hampshire day).

Howe’s plans were to make a major attack, cutting off the colonists in the redoubt. He first orders the navy to burn Charlestown so colonists have nothing to hide behind–obviously learning a lesson from the British retreat from Lexington and Concord.  But when John Stark brings his regiment from New Hampshire to the redoubt and is allowed to position them as he sees fit, he immediately anticipates Howe’s flanking maneuver and orders his men to the gap.  There, they fortify a two rail fence, all that would have stood between Howe and the redoubt.  Stark also puts his men in 3 deep to be able to rotate the men firing.  When the British attack, 90 British soldiers are killed in the first volley.  They would never breach the fence.  In fact, many British commanders would lose between 3/4 and 9/10 of their men.

Outside Yorktown Victory Center

Cloer’s second talk was on Washington:  “The gentleman and the soldier looked agreeably blended in him.” He explained what an adjustment it was for Washington as a Virginian to enter Massachusetts society and lead.  It was indeed a clash of cultures.  It really gave some perspective on exactly what it took for such different colonies to work together–something that should give us hope today.

The final talk of the day was Jason Halin on The Revolutionary Partnership of John and Abigail Adams. One fascinating detail he pointed out was that the average age in Boston was 16.  So, you have a young, discontented population in the middle of economic depression, ruled by an authority they don’t agree with.  No wonder Franklin described it as a powder keg waiting to erupt!

Honoring Massachusetts

Another fascinating detail was Abigail Adams role in the revolution.  In addition to holding down the fort in Boston, caring for sick family members, running a farm, and making supplies for the army–John Quincy remembers her making her own musketballs–she also served as John Adams’ eyes and ears, passing vital information which he could share with congress.  Another fun fact about her is that she pushed her husband to ensure women’s rights in the new independence–something John Adams doesn’t push for in light of everything else they were fighting.  She truly is a remarkable woman.

Definitely incredible information to learn!


Robert Frost Museum and Grounds

Robert Frost Museum and Grounds

We set out this morning (8/6/14) for Shaftsbury, Vermont, to visit the home of American poet Robert Frost. Last time we were in town, the museum was closed, so I was looking forward to seeing it. It definitely wasn’t up to my expectations. The Museum is, by admission of the curator, a “museum for adults.” I’d up the ante and say it’s a museum for scholars. Having grown up going to more museums than I can tally, I know the difference between a good museum and a bad one. This one is in definite need of a make-over.

Robert Frost quote in my classroom

Robert Frost quote in my classroom

Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets. His “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was the first poem I ever learned, while his “Road Not Taken” graced my classroom wall for 10 years. The entire scope of the museum consists of 3 pieces of Frost Furniture and 7 Panels with minimal pictures and TONS of writing. We knew something was up when the couple leaving the museum at 10:10 (The museum opens at 10:00) failed to answer when we asked how it was–but maybe they didn’t hear the question. The Museum curator stated that they desire to “Let Frost speak for himself.” That’s all well and good–if you like reading. For my mom, who is dyslexic (though does take the time to read everything), or many of my students, who either don’t like reading or struggle with it, Frost is not going to GET to speak. He will be “lost in translation.” We offered a few suggestions: podcasts, audio tours, QRL’s…, but it seems this museum is committed to staying a museum, with all the connotations that implies. My fear is it will become as inaccessible as Frost’s “Stone Wall.”

The Stone Cottage

The Stone Cottage

The information is great, however, for those who will take the time to read it. There were hand written notes, letters about his family’s 17 day 225 mile hike on which his boots only allowed him to hike 125 miles (I can’t imagine!) I learned about Frost’s own tragedy–his first son died at four. It shares his fears that he would be nothing more than a name on a gravestone (That ongoing longing to be remembered that I discussed in Search for Significance.) There are many fascinating jewels amidst the wall panels. As one who loves to “Stand on the ground,” it was amazing to stand in the room in which Frost wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

His "name on a stone"

His “name on a stone”

(I also learned he wrote it in June after being up all night.) So there are many fun facts for those willing to take the time to glean answers. My favorite gem was an interview Frost did in which someone asked the question, “How long does it take to write a poem?” His response: “Not long to write them, but it takes a long time to live them.” This reminds me of one of my favorite things about poetry–that every poem is a felt idea. Each one recollects some experience or idea of the author that he or she hopes will resonate with others. In this way, Frost truly does continue to connect with readers. One cool thing the Museum offers is a series of lectures on a variety of Sundays in the summer. These are free to the public and offer additional insight into the life of Robert Frost.

Since the Museum and grounds didn’t take us long, we decided to explore the area. We headed first to Bennington Battle Monument. I’m ashamed to say I do not recall having ever learned anything about the Battle of Bennington, which was a “pre-turning point” to Saratoga in the American Revolution. At 306 feet, it is Vermont’s tallest structure. So what happened at Bennington to make it worthy of such a monument?

Bennington Battle Monument and sculpture of Captain Seth Warner

Bennington Battle Monument and sculpture of Captain Seth Warner

Bennington was the supply station for the military. General Burgoyne (British) knew this and made it a target on his way to Saratoga to try to accomplish the “Divide and Conquer” strategy the British had to win the war. American general Stark, who had resigned from the military due to being passed over for promotions, came back to the field to lead, as long as he could take orders from New Hampshire, not the Continental Congress (who’d refused his promotion.) The legendary Green Mountain Boys (finally, I’m making the connection that Vermont is the Green Mountain State…) also played a large role in the War, but in this battle, just their captain, Seth Warner, came. These forces were able to soundly defeat Burgoyne, who then had to continue to Saratoga without the supplies he sought in Bennington. His men were also psychologically affected by the loss, which may have set them up for another loss in Saratoga. Apparently, Vermont has a tradition of playing a large role in military engagements. During the Civil War, 10% of Vermont’s population served in the military in the Civil War–the largest per capita of any state. They also made the machines that produced the gun powder used in the war, as well as the ore for horseshoes. This little state packed a big punch!
Bennington Cemetery--Flags mark Revolutionary graves

Bennington Cemetery–Flags mark Revolutionary graves

From the Monument, we went to the Old Congregational Church in Bennington. This church has the grave of Robert Frost, but it offers many other cool historical connections. It was on this location that 109 delegates, one from each county, met to vote to ratify the Constitution of the United States–103 voted yes. Additionally, the cemetery has a huge collection of Revolutionary War soldiers’ graves. It’s an incredible place to poke explore. Though we had had relatives who fought in the American Revolution–one even with the Green Mountain Boys–I don’t believe we had any buried there. It would have been fun to hunt down the stories of the men buried here. But, for today, we went to visit Robert Frost and journeyed on.

Jarvis Rockwell's piece

Jarvis Rockwell’s piece

Our next stop was the Bennington Museum, which is not closed on Wednesdays in the summer, despite that information on the website. This museum houses a large collection of Grandma Moses art, in addition to a number of other works of art and artifacts. First, though Grandma Moses is an American icon, she’s never been one of my favorites–I prefer realism and impressionism. Her work is a little too “modern” for me–meaning the people and animals vaguely resemble themselves, but more like what a fifth grader might do. Apologies to any of her greatest fans, she’s just not my favorite. But, there are a number of other really cool pieces of furniture, sewing machines, lace works, and other items that were really neat. There’s even a large collection of weaponry and a display explaining the Battle of Bennington. They also have a great genealogical library, where we looked up a bit of information on our relatives. One interesting find was a picture and wall designed by Jarvis Rockwell, Norman’s artist son I had just learned about! I’m still not a fan of modern art, though.

Henry Bridge

Henry Bridge

We headed out of town to check out some of the famous Vermont covered bridges. My favorite was the Henry Bridge. It’s also the easiest to photograph, with the best pullout and even a picnic area. After taking a few pictures, we set off for the Apple Barn, one of my mom’s favorite places. This country store has a number of amazing products. We left with chocolate chocolate chip pancake mix, buy one get one free pumpkin butter, apple cider doughnuts, maple sugar, maple syrup, and peaches. As we were walking out, we noticed the blueberry patch behind the store. Mom went in and asked about picking some, and we were told we could pick some for free because of our purchase! So, we topped the day off with two buckets of blueberries!

Looking forward to heading to Plymouth tomorrow!