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Stormy Point Village

I haven’t posted this Spring Break because we knew it would be rainy the whole week in Branson, Missouri, so we mostly brought projects to work on. But, we did have see a few things that are definitely worth sharing.7BA570A3-CC29-45B1-9BF6-4E5FE056C0F7

On Wednesday (3/28/18), we went to hear James Garrett in his tribute to John Denver. Whether you’re like me and grew up playing John Denver songs on the piano or you have never heard of him before, this is an incredible show and has been voted the best morning show for the past 6 years! In addition to James (whose music you can check out here,) the band also included Randy Plummer with gospel songs, Shannon Comer on percussion, and Shawn Pittman playing a mean violin and hammered dulcimer. Additionally, James shares about not only his friendship with John Denver and some funny anecdotes, but also his experience growing up in 18 different homes as a foster kid, leading him to start the foundation Jacob’s House at Thunder Ranch to provide a safe place for foster kids. Truly an amazing heart born out of first hand experience.

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The Wilders’ last home

Then, yesterday (3/29/18), we headed over to Mansfield, Missouri, to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane Museum and Home. Though still a rainy day, it was a great experience. The main home is entirely filled with originals, as if Laura just stepped out. In fact, everything but the kitchen floor, the curtains, and the bedspreads are original. In many places, the wallpaper is the original pattern, but has been remade.

One cool feature of the house is that Laura designed it and Almanzo built it. It’s also amazing to realize how short they actually were—Laura stood only 4’11” and Almanzo was somewhere around 5’4”, so a small couple. We took the tour in the order the home was built.

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The Rock House

 

 

There were so many amazing original pieces including the Christmas clock, which Almanzo had traded hay to get. This is the same one mentioned in The First Four Years. There are also a number of pieces of furniture Almanzo made from lamps to tables. And the storage he built in is unparalleled! (Though perhaps that was Laura’s design.)

The rock house was purchased by Rose who was the second most demanded writer in America before Laura even started writing. She bought it from the Sears Roebuck catalog, which is interesting. Though the house is much more sparsely furnished (the Wilders only lived in it for 7 years while Rose lived in their house—after that, they rented it out), it was in this house that Laura began writing the Little House books.

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Pa’s fiddle

Before we left, we headed to the museum, which contains many other family pieces—most notably Pa’s fiddle, Laura’s wedding dress, and original manuscripts. Definitely an incredible museum.

We ended off today (3/30/18) with a drive on our first sunny day of the week. We drove out to the steamboat and then walked around in the Sight and Sound theatre which is performing Samson currently.

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Sight and Sound Theatre entrance

All in all, this has been a restful trip with some neat sights to see.

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The Carter House

Having been drawn to Franklin, Tennessee, since reading The Widow of the South, we came to Nashville with plans of spending time in Franklin.  Today (12/26/17), we made a power trip to three main sites.

We started chronologically at the Carter house.  We planned to arrive around opening time (9:00 AM) to explore a bit before the 10:00 Slavery tour (held on Tuesdays at the Carter House and Thursdays at Carnton).  Since the tour was just my mom and I, and I had a good grasp on the legislation involving slavery, we got a unique experience.  Christy shared with us some of the things she felt were the most interesting in her vast research on slavery and specifically on the slaves at the Carter House.

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Slave Cabin moved in from another plantation in the area

She started with slavery’s origin in Africa.  While I knew there were huge losses during the Middle Passage, I wasn’t aware just how many lost their lives.  12.3 million slaves left Africa on slave ships and only 10.7 million survived.  That’s roughly 17%.  Another surprising statistic was that only 450,000 came to America–less than 4%.  The rest were sent to the Caribbean or South America where they were often worked to death.  One thing that made American slavery unique was allowing some slaves to stay together in family units–something Carter did.

While Christy rightfully stressed that even the best slavery was still slavery, the Carters seemed to be one of the best.  They worked alongside their slaves in the field and protected their slaves with them in the day of the Battle of Franklin.  Their 28 slaves were not only able to live as family units (and were listed as family units instead of most valuable to least valuable), but several were also left 200 acres of land a piece in Carter’s will.  The families (both names Carters as the slaves took the Carter’s name) have also remained close through the generations after slavery.  We got to see a picture, probably from the 1890’s) of the mom’s and babies of both the black and white Carters standing together–just two moms and their boys who grew up and stayed best friends all their lives.  It was neat to see Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners sit down together at the table of brotherhood” before Martin Luther King was even on the scene.

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Visible damage in both the smoke house and the field office

After the Slavery Tour, we stayed for the traditional house tour.  Adam did an incredible job of explaining the carnage of November 30, 1864.

He started with a conflict between John Bell Hood (Confederate) and William Tecumseh Sherman (Federal).  The two had been engaged in conflict before Sherman began his famous March to the Sea.  When Sherman set out, Hood tried unsuccessfully to lure him back into the area, but Sherman continued on.  Hood then decided to take Nashville, both for a morale boost and supplies.  Sherman sent Schofield to cut Hood off, leading the two to embark on a race to Nashville, where only around 8,000 federals were guarding the area.

Hood and Schofield, both with around 30,000 men, each outmaneuver the other.  Finally, Hood gets around Schofield.  He has Schofield  trapped, and both sides know it.  Hood gives strict orders to block the road, and not leave any way for Schofield to retreat.  He then prepares to accept Schofield’s surrender in the morning.  But, in the fiasco of the century, the order is dropped, and the Confederates bed down for the night on either side of a wide open road.  Schofield is somehow able to march his men right through the sleeping Confederates, a testimony to either his stealth or their exhaustion.

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View of the Carter Property

Around 4 AM, Federal Brigidier General Jacob Cox knocks on the door of the Carter house, looking for a place to rest for a few hours–his own men are as exhausted as Hood’s.  Fully believing his men will be able to retreat across the river, he tells Fountain Branch Carter there will be no battle–the men are just exhausted and need a place to rest.  Fountain Branch asks about leaving, but Cox recommends staying, as he can’t guarantee the safety of their house or belongings if he leaves.  However, when Cox’s scout wakes him up around 4:30 AM to let him know the bridges are badly damaged and none of the promised pontoon boats have arrived, leaving them trapped, things change.  Cox awakens his men, sends engineers to repair the broken bridges, and orders the rest to entrench.  They know Hood will wake up, discover they’ve left, and be hot on their heels, madder than a hornet.  They build lines of defense:  the first, a two mile trench from river bank to river bank with the city of Franklin behind.  They then build a secondary line of trenches near the Carter house.  The third line (advanced guard) is about 1/2 mile south.  Now, they wait.

Wagner (Federal) had ordered Opdycke and two other brigades to utilize their men for an advanced line of observation.  Opdycke, however, argues with this command and Wagner finally tells him to “fight wherever you d–n well please!”  Obdycke takes his men back to the Carter house–a move that will prove providential for the Union (and bring recognition to Opdycke).  Opdycke’s men who left the advanced guard go in to rest.

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View showing the distance between the cellar (right) and the front door (left)

As expected, Hood’s men start arriving around 1 (They will be seen by Mrs. McGavock over at Carnton as Franklin is mostly fields with only 750 actual residents.)  Schofield expects Hood to see the entrenched Yankees, observe the lateness of the day, and wait–hopefully allowing the bridges to be repaired or the boats to arrive.  Yet, at 4:00 PM, as it’s beginning to grow dark on Winstead Hill, Hood’s men step off.

Hood’s battle plan is brilliant and initially effective.  Attack the advance guard, and push them back to punch a hole in the middle of the Union line.  Then, pour his men through the gap to flank the Union.  Initially, his plan works.  The Union advance guard makes a full speed retreat.  The first line of defense can’t fire because their own men are coming between them and the Confederates, who punch a hole straight through.  Surprisingly, the flanks hold.  The weak links–rookies from Ohio and Missouri, who were put in the second line to keep them from screwing things up, are now fighting like the devil.  Opdyke’s men, now rested, hear the commotion and come charging in without orders.  Running to the fray, they charge straight up to confront the Confederates.

What follows is hours of the most brutal hand to hand combat in the war.  While the family, their slaves, and their neighbors the Lotz family crouch in their basement, soldiers are cut down with grape shot (canister), bludgeoned with guns, bayoneted, or bit (yes, actually bit.)  Men used everything they could get their hands on to hurt each other, and bodies piled up 6-7 deep or were used as human shields.  In some places, soldiers couldn’t even fall to die because the number of dead around them held them up.

After fighting finally died down around 9:00 PM, the sun rose to 10,000 casualties–7,500 of whom were Confederates.  There were six generals dead and another 7 captured, making this a significant loss.  One out of every four soldiers were killed in the 5 hours of fighting.  Carter described having to shovel a path from the cellar to his front door through the bodies (57 of them) and carrying a bucket for brains.

The bridges were finally finished, and Schofield’s regiment would cross the river to reinforce Nashville, where a mere two weeks later, Hood would try another assault which also fails, and he is chased back through Franklin–a town that will be indeliably changed.

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The Lotz House

Finishing the battle tour, we rushed over to the Lotz House where we had the privilege to take a tour with Thomas Cartwright–leading expert on the Battle of Franklin.  He shared much of what we heard at the Carter House, but understandably focused more on the Lotz family–particularly the daughter Matilda Lotz who became an internationally famous painter.  He explained the Lotz’s held their daughter’s birthday party the night before the battle, oblivious of events about to unfold.  The next day, the area is overrun by federals, and Matilda’s pet calf is shot in front of her.  Tom attributes this experience to the fact that Matilda will make her international reputation painting with kind faces.

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Artifacts from the Lotz House–I think there had to be a good story here

In addition to the horrors of losing a pet, Tom asks us to imagine being Mr. Lotz trying to rush his wife and three children 150 paces over to the Carter cellar.  It must have been nerve-wracking!  Tom also shows places where blood stains the floor of the Lotz house and cannon balls damaged both floor and ceiling–in fact, so much of the house was destroyed that it took Lotz four years to repair a house it’d taken him only three years to build.  Tom also points out that Lotz, a master carpenter, was obviously in a hurry to get his family out of the cellar, as there are hammer marks in the repaired areas of the floor.  Another disturbing fact is that the nails in the floor are horseshoe nails.  Knowing that six horses were left dead in the Lotz yard, and how many nails per horse shoe, it is interesting to see the same number of horseshoe nails holding together the patches in the floor.  Another indication of how desperate the area must have been left after the battle.

One connection to the slavery tour, Tom shared that Mr. Lotz’s slaves weren’t field hands, but skilled laborers.  In fact, he paid $2,500 a piece for two slaves who were also skilled carpenters.  When slaves were generally between $500 and $1,500, to pay $2,500 a slave indicates these were incredibly special slaves.  Definitely a fascinating tour!

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The McGavock’s Carnton Plantation

From the Lotz House, we rushed over to the McGavock Plantation at Carnton, one of many houses used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers.  This was the site we especially wanted to see, as it was the setting of The Widow of the South.  It truly did not disappoint!  The McGavock plantation is huge and lovely.  While the owner after the McGavocks sanded off the bloodstains on the bottom floor because they bothered his daughter (understandably!), he did leave the stains on the second floor.  These are by the windows on the South side, so doctors were able to utilize the light.  Additional tables were set up in the yard to continue to operate.

When you realize the Battle of Franklin left 10 wounded men per citizen, one can understand how every house in town became a hospital  What made the McGavock farm different is the family themselves.  Our tour guide quoted an eye witness who recounted seeing Carrie McGavock sitting on the stairs writing a letter for a wounded soldier who knew he was going to die.  Carrie’s described as having most of her overslip torn away for bandages, and her sleeves and skirt about 3/4 coated in blood.  The McGavocks were offered the opportunity to leave or to sequester themselves in one room on the second floor.  Instead of running or hiding, the McGavocks jumped in to help out, even with their young children.

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The McGavock Family Cemetery

But, the McGavocks involvement didn’t end with just offering their house as a hospital for months.  They also donated a portion of their land, next to their own cemetery containing both the McGavock’s and the McGavock slaves, to provide a cemetery for Confederate soldiers who had been buried shallowly on the battlefield, then washed up in a torrential rain.  While they had help cataloging the bodies, which are arranged by state, they also spent the rest of their lives answering letters from relatives who thought their men were here and caring for those relatives when they visited the graves.  Carrie McGavock also mourned these men as her own three children who had died young as she daily walked through the cemetery.

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One side of the Confederate Cemetery 

Though our feet were killing (3 one hour tours, and one 90 minute tour), we thoroughly enjoyed our experience and hope to return in warmer weather.

Fort Necessity

I was excited to head to Fort Necessity today (8/1/17) because this is where it all began:  The French Indian War which gave rise to the American Revolution.  So much of Washington is tied up in this area–his worst defeat, his biggest betrayal, his deepest humiliation, and the loss of a surrogate father figure.  Standing on the ground here, I felt, would give me the greatest insight for my book.  It is a truly incredible place.

I hadn’t realized that Washington and his men had spent almost two months clearing land for a road to attack Fort Duquesne.  One thing that has always stood out to me in this area is just how many trees there are–everywhere.  I can’t imagine trying to carve a path through them, much less fighting in them.  When he happened upon the Great Meadows, it must have seemed an oasis in the desert.  He termed it, “A charming field for an engagement.”  For a man who desperately wanted a British commission and who had been trained in the shoulder to shoulder British style of fighting, this spot was perfect.  Still, he hadn’t intended it for military service, but merely a supply station for troops attacking Fort Duquesne.

Another view of the fort

That all changed when three days later, Washington’s ally Tanacharison (the Half King) informed Washington there were French in the area (about 7 miles away).  His actions later make me wonder if this was a set-up, and he was simply using Washington.   Washington and 40 men set out to the Half King’s camp.  When they arrive, his scouts lead them to a ravine where the French are encamped.  From this point, two different versions of the story come into place.  Like typical siblings, both the French and the British claim the other one started it.  The French claim the British surprised them, and they fired back.  The British claim the French saw them approaching and fired first, with the British return fire being self defense.  Whatever actually happened, at the end of the day, the French commander Joseph Coulon de Villiers (Sieur de Jumonville) and 9 others were killed, one wounded, 21 prisoners, and one man who escaped to carry the news to Fort Duquesne.  British casualties were one killed, two wounded.  This would lead me to believe the British fired first, though they did have the high ground, so the disparity in casualties could come from that.  The interesting thing is that Coulon de Villiers was actually only wounded and was possibly trying to surrender–until the Half King got ahold of him–literally.  With a tomahawk.

Diorama of the Fort

When British Colonel Fry falls off his horse and dies of his injuries two days later, Washington is promoted to Colonel.  With the weight of leadership on his shoulders and the expectation of French retaliation from Fort Duqesne, Washington begins to try to make the area a fort, while still trying to do work on the road.  He has men guard those working on the road, but even with reinforcements still only has about 400 men.  His Indian allies meet with him, but when they realize Washington’s supplies haven’t come through as promised, and he has barely enough provisions for his men, they decide the British are a lost cause and refuse to fight.  Thus, Washington will face the 700 approaching Frenchmen and Indians with no allies.  I’m sure this was a huge betrayal by those he thought would stand with him–especially the man who was actually to blame for the incident.  But, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

Artillery demonstration

It’s a horrible, rainy day on July 3, making fighting sporadic, as both sides are dealing with wet gunpowder, and Washington’s men are standing in trenches, which are slowly filling up.  The commander of the French Army is none other than the Louis, brother of Joseph Coulon de Villiers.  But, Providence will both save Washington and humiliate him.  The Indians with the French prefer the element of surprise and the spoils of war.  Seeing that there is neither at this time, they tell Louis Coulon De Villiers that they will leave in the morning.  He has a choice to make.

He requests a truce to parlay, offering Washington the chance to surrender.  But, when the terms are sent to Washington, they are smudged because of the rain.  Washington’s normal translator had been killed, and the man who was translating was Dutch, but could understand most of what was said.  Most being the key word.  He informs Washington that the terms are generous, allowing Washington and his men to leave with honors of war, taking their baggage and weapons (but no swivel guns–like little cannons) and return immediately to Virginia.  They had to leave two men as hostages (who would volunteer, then provide valuable intelligence as spies.)  Unfortunately, the translator left out the part where, by signing, Washington is admitting to the assassination of Joseph Coulon de Villiers, whom the French claim was acting as an ambassador, in the same role as Washington himself–though papers in his effects give the possibility he was spying as well (as the British would claim).  This report makes it all over Europe and the colonies, and Washington is humiliated.  Though Governor Dinwiddie doesn’t blame Washington when he reaches Virginia, he will disband the Virginia regiments into garrison companies, and will offer Washington the demoted rank of Captain.  When Washington is unable to negotiate a higher rank, he will leave military service less than three months after the Fort Necessity debacle and return to Mount Vernon.

Braddock’s memorial

But, Washington doesn’t get too comfortable in the quiet life as a farmer.  When General Braddock is named Commander in chief of the British forces and arrives in America with two Irish regiments, Washington sends him a note of congratulations–a great way to get noticed.  Because of the way British commissions worked, Washington would be subordinate to even his British inferiors, so he makes the decision to accept the offer to join as Braddock’s Aide de Camp–a volunteer position in which he only answered to Braddock, and he could pave the way to a commissioned rank.

I can’t imagine what he must have felt when his path led him back to Fort Necessity, where the bones of his men were still visible against the landscape (the French had burned Fort Necessity to the ground.)  But, he had another chance to assault Fort Duquesne.  Unfortunately, it would be another devastating loss.

View of Braddock’s original burial site (right) and monument (left)

Braddock has mostly heeded Washington’s advice on the advance.  He has men scouting and protecting the flanks and rear as the army crosses the Monongahela River.  When he doesn’t get ambushed, however, Braddock assumes the French are holed up in the fort and pulls the scouts in, lining his men up, unfurling the banners, and striking up the band.  There’s not a chance the French can miss their arrival.  Unfortunately.  Unbeknownst to him, the French know Braddock’s coming and had made the decision to surprise attack–they just didn’t make it to the river in time.  The two armies slam into each other.  And though the British have over twice the numbers, the French and Indians are fighting ambush style, hitting the flanks from the treeline, and the British lines literally collapse into each other, forming a mass of red coated men–a horribly easy target.  Washington and Braddock, both on horseback, are trying to return order to the situation.  Both have horses shot from under them.  Both have bullet holes in their clothing.  Both are unhit–until Braddock is struck with a bullet to the shoulder which passes into his chest.  Washington is able to get him into a wagon and off the field, then assemble the men and cover the retreat.

The original spot where Braddock was buried.

Unfortunately, Braddock, who had been a sort of father figure to 24 year old George who had lost his own father at 11, would die three days later.  Washington himself will preside over the burial, choosing to bury him in the road he had built where soldiers will march over his grave, obscuring the site from those who would seek to desecrate the body.  He will remain there until 1804 when men repairing this section of the road will stumble upon the remains and move them to the hill.

Ironically, this site of so much pain will be bought by Washington who visited after the war.  For the surveyor, it is indeed a beautiful piece of land, but I can’t imagine being able to see past all the memories he would have had.  But, knowing that he also revisited Valley Forge, I believe Washington didn’t shy away from the hard places.  Perhaps that’s another thing that makes him great.

 

 

 

 

 

View from the observation deck

Every American remembers where he or she was on September 11, 2001, when they got the news (if they were old enough to be aware of their surroundings.)  I was teaching at a small private school at the time, and it was right before our 10:00 break when the school secretary knocked on my classroom door.  I stepped into the hallway to find her white faced and tear stained.  “Amy, they’ve hit the White House and the Pentagon.  We’re at war.”  No explanation on who and misinformation on events, but the pit of my stomach dropped as I had to turn back, wide-eyed, to face a room full of teenagers blissfully unaware of what had happened.  My dad had done briefings at the Pentagon.  How could this happen?

When the bell rang for our break, we rushed en masse into the computer lab and began frantically googling.  The rest of a school day was a blur–I remember the conversations about whether or not to cancel (We chose no–terrorists will not disrupt our schedule.  Their goal is to make us afraid.  We run away, we let them win.), the phone calls saying to get gas on the way home as it might go up to $5.00 (I got it at $1.81–almost 2 times our norm–the station down the road was up to $3.15.), and the wondering of just what had happened.

Boulder marking crash site

I went home and watched the news for eight hours straight, running back and forth between my rooms and the family I lived with, swapping stories and recommending channels.  I remember how we waited for them to find survivors, hoping and praying. How patriotic everyone was, and how eerily quiet the skies were for the next several days then how weird a plane looked when they finally started flying again.  I remember President Bush’s speeches, one heard standing in a room full of enlisted men when he announces our intention to fight back, and they all cheered.  I swelled with pride at flags hung over buildings and off of equipment, awed by the tireless service of men and women who poured from across the country to help, yet I also felt the sorrow of unimaginable loss–mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children.

In the focus on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, especially trying to find survivors, Flight 93 kind of got passed over.  We mentioned they had fought back and probably saved the White House or the Capital, and Todd Beamer’s “Let’s Roll” became well known, but mostly, they weren’t the main focus.  So, when I drove into Western Pennsylvania and passed the sign, I felt drawn to find out more.

The Museum building

Today (7/30/17), a dear friend who had gone to the Memorial on Friday when it had been packed wanted to revisit, so we went, though it isn’t anything to do with my grant or George Washington.  Yet, since he also chose to fight back–even against insurmountable odds–I think I can still learn something.

The Museum itself is incredible.  Displays contained in-depth information on the passengers, their personal effects, final actions, and lives.  I was riveted by the display that gave transcripts of the cockpit conversations, showing the flight path as the struggle took place.  I had no idea the terrorists had rocked the plane back and forth in an effort to stop the passengers’ assault.  Nor did I realize how many phone calls were made and that the decision to fight back seems to have been unanimous with three passengers even ending phone calls to be part of the attack.  Additionally, I was unaware that the passengers waited to do their attack until they were over a rural area to minimize damage if they were unsuccessful.  Listening to the phone calls left on answering machines, we were struck with how calm these ladies were, usually until the very end.  One even minimized the situation (“We’re having a bit of trouble on the plane.  I’m fine for now…”)

Items left at the Memorial

Because of their foresight, FBI agents quickly realized this site would yield the most information, since there was no debris mixed in with the plane remains–a thought that never occurred to me about the other buildings.  This site is the only one where both the cockpit voice recorder (only one) and the flight recorder (one of two) were both recovered.  You can read the transcripts of the events and voices, but they don’t have the audio available.  But, reading the transcripts while watching the flight simulator is a truly awe-ful (in both senses) experience.  Additionally, they recovered one of the terrorists’ credit cards and handwritten plans/instructions–I can’t imagine how these survived the inferno of a 535 mph impact with 5,000 gallons of jet fuel.  But, this card was the key to tracing the money trail.  There were so many fascinating things to see!  My other favorite stop was being able to get a short biography of each passenger, what effects of theirs were found, and what tributes have been made in their honor.  Two of the most amazing effects to survive (to me) were a man’s NIV Bible inscribed with his name and a woman’s prayer card from her husband’s memorial service.  I’m so glad each person was honored.  We wondered how many visitors who we encountered had loved ones or friends on that wall.

Wall of names with Museum in background

After looking through the Museum, we headed down the approximately one mile meandering walk out to the crash site.  Since it is a burial ground, you cannot walk directly out to the spot, but a large boulder indicates where it is.  Additionally, there is a wall of names and niches along the walkway where visitors can leave tributes.   It’s a beautiful walk filled with wildflowers against a mountain vista–stark contrast to the horror which happened here, and yet another reminder of beauty from ashes and bravery and honor in the face of terror and evil.

It’s a poignant reminder that, as one visitor summarized Edmund Burke’s statement, “‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’  You didn’t ‘do nothing,’ and so evil didn’t triumph.”   May we take from this example the courage to stand against evil wherever it lurks and do what we can to fight it!

 

Washington’s Birthplace

After church at Crosswalk this morning (7/9/17), I set out from Williamsburg to take in two spots from Washington’s youth:  his birthplace, where he lived through age three, and his boyhood home, where he lived until he was a young teenager.  Both were incredible to see.

When I arrived at the birthplace, I learned that it had been the intention of George’s father Augustine to secure farms for all of his sons, not just the first one as was traditional.  He had the Pope’s Creek plantation first, then acquired Mount Vernon, and finally Ferry Farm.  Because of these acquisitions, George only lived at the Pope’s Creek Plantation until he was three, but often returned often during his youth. The house was in the family until 1779 when it burned in a fire on Christmas Day.

The reconstructed house–where they thought it stood.

While there is an outline of original house, the house on the property was built for the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday.  They built it on the spot they assumed was the original, but later archaeology confirmed a different location.

Our house tour was given by the lively Chris Kennedy, who told Washington’s whole story in rhymed verse–very fascinating information and delivery.  Kennedy stated that the stories about Washington (like the Cherry tree incident) were not meant to be taken for real events, but rather served as moral examples to the character children should acquire.  Chris said that the point of the Cherry tree story is to teach children (and grown ups as well) to admit when they’ve made a mistake.

Washington’s view out to the Potomac River

Chris also shared a bit of the Washington family history.  Washington’s dad’s first wife Jane died, leaving 3 kids.  Augustine’s second wife Mary gave birth to five more, of which George was the oldest.  As I mentioned, Augustine Washington was actively working to acquire farms for each of his sons, but when he died, all of George’s prospects changed. Now, he couldn’t go to England to study (a fact that would hinder his advancement in the British Army).  Additionally, Mary pulled George out of school at the age of 11 to help her run the Ferry Farm (she decided not to remarry–her property would be affected.  Additionally, with her older step sons (both in their 20’s) running Mount Vernon and Pope’s Creek, she felt she and George could manage Ferry Farm–George’s inheritance.)  George wanted to be in the British Navy, but his mom wrote letters so they wouldn’t take him (I’m curious to find what these say!)  Instead, she reluctantly sent George to his half brothers’ farms to learn.

The cradle came from the Washingtons, so it could have been George’s.

It is at his brothers that George does his first survey:  his brother’s turnip garden. His brother introduces him to Lord Fairfax, the richest man in Virginia and Lawrence’s father-in-law, who will hire him on as a surveyor.  George had always imagined he’d be a British officer and played with toy soldiers as a boy, but because of his lack of education, he was looked down on, even when he was able to join the militia.  George worked first as a farmer, then as a surveyor. Because of this, he knew much of the land, a fact that would advance him in battle later.

The bridge (reconstructed) over Pope’s Creek

Another tragedy struck when Lawrence died.  His widow inherited Mount Vernon. (George was next in line after her.)   George asks her to rent it to him, and she does. Shortly after, George receives a commission in the British army. His job?  Take letters to Ft. Duquesne.  Along the way, the French ambushed the company and an unarmed French nobleman was shot. Washington took prisoners so he’d have a chance to explain the situation (at Ft. Necessity.)  But, George still became the fall guy. (Apparently, he signed a confession he couldn’t understand because his translator had died–a good lesson in not signing something without reading it!)

Washington’s parents’ coats of arms

Later, General Braddock was advised by George to fight behind trees. Braddock ignores George’s advice and gets caught in an ambush where he and other officers are killed. The virtually leaderless soldiers flee to the woods. Washington is able to lead them out by a trail he knew as a boy. George himself had bullet holes in shoulder and hat. He did, however, learn that the British only want to hear what they want to hear instead of how to best protect their men.  That knowledge will help him with the attack on Trenton in the American Revolution.

Entrance to Ferry Farm

From Washington’s birthplace, I headed out to Ferry Farm.  I was surprised to enter this formerly 600 acre plantation by means of a dirt and gravel road. I knew that Augustine Washington had owned an iron works 6 miles down the road, which was probably the reason he chose this spot–that and it was near Fredericksburg, which was a bustling tobacco port. But, Ferry Farm was to be George’s property.  I found out when I went in the main building that George’s mom finally sold this property and moved to Fredericksburg in 1772. She sold it to Mercers, who rented it out. Later, a soldier in Civil War wrote a letter home in which he stated they had torn down Washington’s house for firewood. After that, Youth For Christ bought the property for a boy’s home. In 1996, the Kenmore foundation (Washington’s sister’s home) purchased it. Finally, in 2008 archaeologists found foundation of the house, and they are currently rebuilding on original site.

The Visitor Center

At the visitor center, I received an ipad to take a tour around the grounds.  There is a series of 10 flags which mark various points on the property.  At each point, you can listen to historical information as well as hear from the archaeologists.  Here are a few of the nuggets I gleaned along the way:

1.  When George moved here from Mount Vernon, he left a plantation for urban life–the city is obviously very different from the country.

2.  George’s first survey was of brother’s turnip patch. When Lord Fairfax enlisted him as a surveyor, this gave George a substantial salary.  Additionally, surveyors got to see the land first for claiming.

3.  Some slaves came with the property, some the Washington’s already had, and some came from Africa. One of the beads found on the property marked a chief.  I was reminded of the story of Cinque on the Amistad.  I wonder what his story was.

 

4.  Archaeology tells a lot about the family.  Since all of the estates were separated when Augustine died, Mary, who is 35 at the time and has 5 children, is left in charge of all the plantations. One thing archaeologists found is a punch bowl that Mary had mended–this shows that while they were comfortably situated, Mary is still being frugal.

 

5.  Being at the crossroads of trade, George undoubtedly conversed with people coming and going, which would improve his gentlemanly standing.  Also, from his surveyors wages, he paid for his own dancing and fencing lessons and to go to the theatre–which I think is both cool and hilarious.  He also learns cards and billiards, joins the masons, and is taught tea table manners. He learned gentlemanly behavior both at Ferry Farm and from Lawrence and the Fairfaxes.

6.  Archaeologists found over 115 wig curlers on Ferry Farm.  (George didn’t wear a wig–he liked his own hair better….)

The Rappahannock–this is the river Washington threw things across, though stones, not silver dollars

7.  Two court cases draw very public scrutiny of the family.  First, in there’s a trial in which one slave kills another–there wasn’t much information on that.  The other court case concerns George swimming in the Rappahannock and 2 indentured servants steal his clothes (I also think this one is hilarious!)

Construction and archaeology

Though it was unfinished, I’m glad I made a stop here, and will enjoy seeing the progress they’ve made the next time I come!

Governor’s Palace

Today (3/29/17), we had planned to do another tour of historic Jamestown with the woman who was giving the Roads Scholars’ tour, but when we called Jamestowne, we were told her tour wouldn’t be until 3 (Turns out, it was a miscommunication and she wasn’t giving a tour today.)  So, with our initial plans out the window, we were left to explore new territory.

We spent the morning running errands and trying to obtain contact information for the new man in charge of Colonial Williamsburg.  As long time guests, we believe he’s making some major mistakes in direction and wanted to address them before it’s too late.  While his schedule wouldn’t allow us to meet this week, I received assurances that his chief of staff would contact me.  We’ll see.

Freedom Park cabins

So, we had time to kill before our 5:30 lecture on George Washington.  Last night, I had Googled a “Must see” list for the area to see what we had missed in our devotion to our favorites.  One area that caught my eye was Freedom Park.  While it is known for its hiking and biking trails and zip lining, it also is the site of one of the oldest free black settlements.

Reconstruction of a cabin like John Jackson’s.

The place got its start when William Ludwell Lee of Green Spring Farm not only freed his slaves in his will, but also made provisions for comfortable homes to be built for them. His executor saw to the project which allowed the former slaves to live rent free for ten years.  One of the homes represents the home of John Jackson (with his wife Nancy and two children.)  Jackson was able to purchase and develop his own property, and his descendants still live in the area!

The park guide also references an 18th century cemetery, and though there were archaeological digs on the grounds and bodies were found, they were reinterred after research was completed.  Unfortunately, there are no markers nor clues to the information archaeologists found, and the area is simply blocked off by rail fences.

Botanical Gardens

The park does, however, have a visitor center which displays a small collection of artifacts and information.  My favorite piece was a map from the Civil War simply listing the area as “Free Negro Settlement.”  There aren’t any houses marked or details, indicating the artist didn’t explore the area. I wished I’d gotten a picture of it, but alas,  I didn’t.

There is a beautiful botanical garden as well, which is run by volunteers.  Though I don’t expect Freedom Park to become a new favorite, it is definitely worth visiting, and since it’s only about five years old and a county park, I’m sure it will continue to improve.  It will be fun to see the changes that occur.

A sampling of period clothes

We left Freedom Park to head back to Colonial Williamsburg for a lecture in the building formerly known as the Dewitt Wallace–now the Art Museums of Williamsburg.  Being a reenactor and a seamstress, I wanted to check out their collection of Colonial Fashion, now on display.  There was a beautiful exhibition of clothes and quilts–well worth visiting, even though I didn’t have much time before the lecture.

The lecture by Professor Peter Henriques was entitled I cannot tell a lie. Myths about George Washington that should be discarded. In his discussion, he gave twelve myths and his reasons why they’re “fake news.”  I’ll recount them here.

Washington’s false teeth

Myth #1:  He had wooden teeth.  Actually,  Washington’s false teeth were a combination of human, ivory, and animal.  In fact, he even bought teeth from his slaves!

Myth #2:  He threw a silver dollar across the Potomac. First, silver dollars hadn’t been invented, and Washington wouldn’t have thrown money away if they had.

CW not GW

Myth #3:  He cut down his father’s cherry tree and said,  “I cannot tell a lie…” This myth was popularized in the book by Mason Locke Weems called The Life of Washington, but, though it appears in the book, it wasn’t added til 5-6 edition. There is some background, though. A vase in Germany (1770-1790) depicts Washington cutting down a tree with GW over his head. Unfortunately, on this case, “Washington” is a grown man, and the initials?  CW.

Myth #4:  Washington prayed on his knees at Valley Forge. While there is nothing implausible about Washington praying. He was a very private man, not given to such ostentatious displays. The story only was added by Weems in the 17th edition of his book. Additionally, the description of the man who supposedly witnessed this differs in accounts.  One has Potts as a Quaker encouraged by the event while others portray him as a Tory disheartened by the event.  In either case, he didn’t buy the farm in Valley Forge until after war was over, so could not have witnessed Washington there.

Myth #5:   Washington was a great curser. The reference to this comes from an account of his clash with Lee in 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth. Lee had turned his troops, and Washington had to rush in to save the day.  A quote by Colonel Charles Scott says, “He swore til the leaves shook the trees.” First of all, Scott wasn’t there, and recounted the story many years later. Also disputing this character portrayal, Alexander Hamilton said Washington never cursed. Charles Lee himself said in his testimony that Washington’s manner was stronger than his language. Finally, Washington prided himself on self- mastery and disdained use of profanity.   All of these are good reasons to doubt the account.

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Sculpture of Washington

Myth # 6:   He was cold and aloof.  Apparently, his friend Gouverneur Morris said he was remote. This stems from a story circulated that Morris had told Hamilton he thought Washington quite genial.  Hamilton apparently bet him dinner and wine if Morris would put his hand on Washington’s shoulder and say, “General!  How happy I am to see you looking so well.”  Supposedly, Morris did it, and Washington removed his hand from his shoulder and glared at Morris until he left.  As with the other myths, there is no contemporary evidence. First, the record is third hand gossip 80 years after the event. Additionally, the story is out of character for both men. Delegates who served with Washington said, “He is sensible, amiable, virtuous, modest, and brave.” To publicly embarrass someone would go against his rules of civility; therefore, it’s safe to assume the incident never happened.

Myth #7:  He had no sense of humor.  James Madison said Washington “enjoyed good humor and hilarity, though he takes little part in them.”  Additionally, Washington’s bad teeth might have given credence to this rumor as well, since most people don’t like smiling and laughing if they’re self conscious–and self-mastery was extremely important to him.

Myth #8:  Washington had a child with his slave.  This rumor has two sources.  The first was letters put out by the British during the war trying to slander Washington’s character.  The other comes from West Ford, who was the son of George Washington’s brother John’s wife’s slave.  The Ford family gave oral tradition that he was Washington’s son.  A number of facts dispute this, however.  First, West didn’t come to Mount Vernon until three years after Washington died. Additionally, there is incredible difficulty with putting Venus (West’s mom) and Washington together.  Since West was born during the war when we have very credible evidence where Washington was, the only possibility would be when John’s family visits Mount Vernon. There’s no plausible reason why Washington–a happily married man who valued duty and self discipline above most else–would do that. West is most likely the son of one of Washington’s nephews.  Doctors now think that Washington was most likely sterile. This doesn’t necessarily disprove the Fords story of having Washington DNA.  The Fords may be directly related to Washington without being directly descended from him.

Myth #9:  Washington struggled about whether to be a king. In actuality, he was fundamentally a believer in republican values. The origins of this belief may be because of a letter from a French officer suggesting it may be better for America to have a king (strong leadership in tumultuous times.). George responded with a blistering letter contradicting that view and even went as far as to have witnesses sign that he sent it. It would have caused him to be viewed as a traitor if he abandoned his republican principles.

Myth #10:  Washington added “So help me God” to his presidential oath.  First, there isn’t contemporary evidence to this.  A letter from the French ambassador which spells out the whole scene of the inauguration in vivid detail doesn’t include it.  But, 65 years later, it appears in a book. It seems out of character for Washington to tamper with the constitutional text when he’s such a stickler for the Constitution being taken literally. The tradition may come from the fact that he’d said it in other oaths.

Myth #11:  Washington is a front man for Alexander Hamilton.  This myth had its origin with Jefferson who immensely disliked Hamilton.  Unfortunately, Washington tends to side with Hamilton’s perspective more than Jefferson’s.  Jefferson’s answer to this frustration is that Washington is deceived by Hamilton, since he cannot consider Washington evil like he considers Hamilton.

Myth #12:  Washington originated the 2 term tradition. It’s important to understand the factors here.  First, Washington steps down from a combination of fatigue and a desire to establish a transition of power. He was not opposed to the idea of serving a number of terms. In fact, in a letter to Lafayette, he said that he saw no problem with serving multiple terms, and thought limiting terms stifled the voice of the people, who might desire a particular person to serve longer (or be in circumstances that would make it easier or better for a leader to continue.)

All in all, it was a fascinating evening, and I see why his lectures are so popular and well attended.

Hulling cacao beans

Mortar and pestle grinding

Rolling out (further grinding)

Closer…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!