Archives for May 2014

The tragic life of John Raymond

British at Munroe TavernJohn Raymond’s murder at the hands of drunken British soldiers on April 19th, 1775 capped a life etched with misfortune.

His parents owned a tavern on property across the street from Munroe Tavern that was beseiged with financial problems.  Apparently it thrived at one time.  But by the time John’s father died in 1760, possibly as a soldier in the French and Indian war, it was far from successful.  Monroe Tavern was not Munroe Tavern at the time, since Will Munroe didn’t take it over until 1770.  Will bought the property from John Buckman Sr, who was Raymond’s main competitor, selling spirits that Raymond apparently couldn’t afford to buy.

When John’s mother died, she left John and his family with enormous debt.  He was sent to debtor’s prison and the town fathers that his wife and children be allowed to remain on the property until it was sold.  The neighbor across the road, Lydia Mulliken, saved them by buying the tavern and property in 1774.  Apparently this cleared up the debt that John owed and he was freed from prison.  He and his family lived there until at least April 19th, 1775.

On April 19th, Will Munroe went to fight on the Green, being Captain John Parker’s second in command.  He left John Raymond, who history tells us was crippled, in charge at the Tavern.  When Lord Percy and his Redcoat reinforcements took over the Tavern, John served them as best he could.   Alcohol didn’t mix well with angry Redcoats and things began getting violent.

As Will’s wife and little children watched from the woods behind the tavern, John Raymond attempted to make an escape.

The Redcoats shot him in the back.  John Raymonds sad life ended in the yard of Munroe Tavern.

 

Whilst I was reading “April Morning”

I’ve always been hesitant to read history.  Not because I don’t love history.  I do.  And historical fiction is such a pleasant way to learn history.  But with some history – that which is awash in politics – how can you be sure that what you’re reading is accurate.  I think the best way is to get down to original sources.  But unless the author you are reading used original sources in his research, then you never know what you’re going to get.

April MorningIn an effort to immerse myself in the 18th Century, I’ve been reading what I can get my hands on.  On of those books is April Morning by Howard Fast (1961)

Last night, I came upon this:

This is a conversation between the main character’s father, Moses, and the Reverend Clarke.

“They were here tonight.”   (The Reverend speaking)
“Who?”
“Sam Adams and John Hancock.”
“Oh, no,” Father said. “Now what in heaven’s name were they doing here?”
The Reverend shrugged, the gesture saying better than words that these were two men with their own ways.
“Where were they?”
“At my house.”
“And now?”
“I didn’t want them here,” the Reverend said bitterly. “Would you want them here, Moses?”
“We got our troubles here.”
“So it seemed to me. I can’t understand any more how this started and the way it is building up. Who chose tonight? Ourselves? The devil? The British? No, I didn’t want them here, and I told them to go to Burlington–”
“They left?”
“About an hour ago, Moses. They have their problems and we have ours.”

I promptly closed the book and I’m not sure I’ll keep reading.  There is so much wrong with this section. I’ll just point out a few.

  • It suggests a disdain by the Reverend Clarke for Adams and Hancock, for their cause.  This could not be further from the truth.  It is said of Clarke that, if we had no writings from the Founding Fathers, but had his sermons, we would know the causes of the Revolution
  • It suggests that Adams and Hancock being at Clarke’s house was unusual.  It wasn’t.  It was a safe place out of the city.  They were there often.  Hancock had practically grown up in that house.
  • It suggests that Clarke was clueless about what was happening around him.  Again, he’d prepared Lexington so well for this night that there was no better place for the events that followed.
  • And probably the biggest problem with this “story” is that it left out Paul Revere entirely.  He arrived at the Clarke house at midnight, urging Hancock and Adams to get to safety ahead of the Redcoat Army.  And, after Revere was captured and then released, he returned to the house, found the two leaders still there.  At that point, they were convinced to leave.

So, if Fast got this wrong, how much other stuff is wrong that I won’t recognize?  How much will the unsuspecting reader take in and assume is fact?  How do we find books we can trust?

Well, I hope mine will be trustworthy.  There will be fiction wrapped around fact in my books.  There has to be.  But I will do my best to present the fiction as reliable.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

Writing History: It’s About Real People

Timeless_BooksMy disclaimer here is that I am not a “historian.”  I haven’t got any fancy letters behind my name.  I don’t teach history in the university.  I’m just a person who loves a good story.  And when you can find good stories within your own heritage, so much the better.

You know the old saying about a people who doesn’t know it’s history (heritage) is doomed to make the mistakes of its past.  The opposite is true, I believe, as well.  Inspiration from our past gives us courage and boldness to not let the sacrifices of our forebears go to waste.

And so my mission is to tell the stories of the people who took part in the events of April 19th, 1775.

All that to share this bit of a book I am reading.  The book is:   History of the town of Lexington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from its first settlement to 1868, with a genealogical register of Lexington families by Charles Hudson (1868).  It’s an amazing book that not only tells the story of April 19th, but also gives us background information and the genealogy of the residents of Lexington.  It’s long – over 700 pages – but Hudson gave us a wonderful gift in this book.

Here’s what Hudson says about making history come alive:

History, to be instructive, must not only narrate events, but state the causes which produced them. Our stock of wisdom is not materially increased by being told that an event transpired; but when we are made acquainted with the causes which brought it about, we have acquired valuable information ; and, from this knowledge of the past, we can reason with tolerable certainty to the future.

History, therefore, is valuable very much as it presents the manners and customs of the people, the spirit of the age, the principles which prevailed, and the antecedents of events. The nearer the historian comes to the people, the source of all power, the more likely he will be to give us the true philosophy of history. Town histories, which are in demand at this day, are valuable for this very reason. They treat of events comparatively unimportant ; but in gleaning these minute facts, the writer comes near the actors, and walks, as it were, in the midst of society in the age in which the incidents occurred ; and so imbibes their sentiments, and becomes familiar with the character of the people, the motives and springs of action which were in play, and the genius of the age of which he writes.

Stick_FiguresIt really is, then, about people.  About Sam and his brother Abel, about Lydia and her brother Nathaniel and the family clock shop, about Anna and Will Munroe who ran a tavern, about the Reverend Clarke and his passion for liberty.  It’s about getting close enough to the people that they are no longer just stick figures of history but living, breathing individuals with hopes and dreams and fears and love.

And I continue to hope that I can do them justice.

Revolutionary Symbols: The Pine Tree

Pinus_strobus_old_tree_Appalachian_ParkThe White Pine of New England.  It’s the Sequoia of the East Coast.  And it has a long history in the making of America.  It also plays a role in Revolution.

Shortly after the first settlers arrived on the shores of what would become New England, they discovered this amazing tree.  It grows straight and strong,  hundreds of feet tall.  But it is also a very light wood and easily worked.  Its contribution to the industry and economy of the Colonies cannot be overstated.  These massive trunks became the masts for ships all over the world. And other wood harvested was crafted into a wide array of shipbuilding pieces and even items for farm and household use.

And here’s the rub.  The English Navy needed these trees for their ships.  So, of course, the King just marked them as his.  So let it be done.  The Kings Surveyors were authorized to search out and mark trees within ten miles of any navigable waters.  Broad_arrow_288They were so thorough that only the smaller trees were left for Americans’ use.  The fine for cutting down one of the trees marked with the Broad Arrow of the King was £100.

For the most part, Americans ignored the marks and took the trees anyway.  And England pretty  much said nothing.  Until the 1770’s.  And then the enforcement became intolerable.  The very livelihood of New England was threatened and the Colonists wouldn’t stand for it.  Who was this King to tell Americans they could not use trees they owned?  Resentments flared into  skirmishes throughout New England, with such names as “The White Pine War” and “The Pine Tree Riot”.

New_England_combo_flag.svg

And the pine tree became yet another symbol rallying Americans to stand for Liberty.