History is Fragile

Recently, I have been working on the puzzle of the Acton Minutemen.  As I’m working to put flesh and blood on people who lived over two hundred years ago, I scour the Internet and as many old books as I can get my hands on. 

Specifically, I have been seeking the names of the Acton Minutemen that marched early on the morning of April 19th to join their brothers-in-arms on Punkatassett Hill in Concord. 

How many were related?  As the day wore on and men were killed and injured, how many of these men were dividing their attention between fighting and grief, fighting and worry about brothers and cousins and friends?

That’s what I was thinking about as I searched for the list of names.

But here’s what I found.

There were no lists.  It was dangerous to be on a list. That was something so simple that I hadn’t thought of. 

What I’m finding is that history is fragile. 

That’s even true in our families.  As one generation passes on and their stories disappear, we all lose.  Young people think the older folks are boring and therefore they don’t take the time to sit with them and let them talk about their lives. 

Or siblings fight over the estate of the deceased and in the warfare, destroy their own history.

And without our history, we don’t know who we are.  And, thus, are easy pickins for tyrants.

Of stumbling blocks, excuses and writer’s conferences. . .

…and pinky promises…

Dear Friends,

A little different blog post this time as I look forward to getting back on track.  I just survived a 4-day writer’s conference here in Colorado Springs.  I say "survived" because I was the moderator coordinator for almost 90 workshops and 28 amazing volunteers.  So, for me, it was a "working" conference.  Not to say I didn’t enjoy myself. 

But. . . just before conference began I realized that it’s been over a year since I had a finished product to show to the world.  A WHOLE YEAR????  That is not acceptable for the journeyman writer (hat tip StoryWonk for the term.)

I’m done kicking myself for that.  And besides, there was a sincere and binding pinky promise given to my good friend Trai Cartwright that this would not happen again, that there would be a new book by this time next year.  My goal is actually two.  And because this blog is so much a part of the Revive 1775 process, I am committed to two blog posts a week here as well. 

I think one of the reasons I struggled last year was that I couldn’t find the balance between fiction and fact in historical novels.  I so want to show the world these amazing people without embellishment.  But, frankly, that is impossible.  It’s impossible because these were real people with real lives.  Yet all that remains today to inform us that they even lived is a few sentences for many and a few pages for others.   

And so one of the take-aways from conference is that I am writing historical NOVELS.  I am writing FICTION.  Fiction informed by facts.  Facts that act as the scaffolding of these heroic stories.  It will be my job to make these people come to life.  It is an intimidating prospect.  A prospect that has kept me a bit frozen. 

No more!  I owe it to myself to be more productive.  I owe it to America to be more productive.  And, I owe it to these heroes and heroines that laid it all on the line for liberty.  I must be more productive.

Besides, pinky promises are serious things…

Sons of Liberty – Lexington Green – Part 2

In a nutshell (because this is a blog post, not a book) here’s what really happened.  As the Redcoats marched down the road (review the map again), unless steered differently, they would have simply kept on marching right past the Lexington meetinghouse, kept on going and never engaged the men who stood on the far north part of the Green.  But they were steered.  At this point in the march, they were being led by a young, brash Irish lieutenant named Jesse Adair.  When Lt. Adair saw them men way over on the green (hard to see, it was just dawning), he turned the column and marched them onto the Green.

There to make a show. . .

The men of Lexington – about 70 of them – were there to make a show.  And to make sure that Adams and Hancock were not accosted.  They were led not by some friend of Adams named Kelly but by their elected Captain.  It was Captain John Parker who led them, who gave them their orders before dawn on April 19th.

“Men,” he said, “do not fire unless fired upon.  But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”  Parker didn’t want a war.  As he looked around at those 70 men, he saw his friends, neighbors, uncles, cousins — you get the picture.  The only thing he wanted more than their safety that morning was to stand for the Liberty they were due as British citizens.  Because British Citizens they were. 

And as Lt. Adair and Maj. Pitcairn rode back and forth before the Lexington troops – with at least 200 of their own on the Green and 600 more on the road – screaming at Parker’s men to lay down their arms and disburse – Parker realized that his men were completely outnumbered.

Go home boys. . .

So, he turned to his men and ordered them to go home.  “Don’t lay down your arms, boys,” he told them, “but go on home.”

That’s exactly what they did (except for two or three).  They turned and began to walk from the Green. 

A shot rang out. 

And the Redcoats opened fire.

Into the backs of the retreating Lexington men.  One volley.  Then another.  Then, the soldiers did what they did best, they lowered their muskets and charged with fixed bayonets.

In less time than it’s taken you to read this far, eight men lay dead.  More wounded.  Five pairs of fathers and sons are separated by death.  Jonathan Harrington (see his house up there above the Green), dispersing as he was told to, shot in the back, crawled up to his front porch and died in his wife’s arms.

It’s just wrong.  End of story. . .

HISTORY Channel’s version just gets it wrong.  Apparently the real heroes don’t matter.  Apparently the truth doesn’t matter.  Apparently, HISTORY doesn’t matter. 

And maybe Brian Williams was there.

Am I ticked at this portrayal?  Very.  And you should be too.

Sons of Liberty – Lexington Green – Part 1

In my last blog post, I reviewed the segment of the HISTORY Channel’s Sons of Liberty which encompassed the “Midnight Ride” of Paul Revere and William Dawes.  In this post, we’ll look at the segment on Lexington Green.

When we left off, Paul Revere had gallantly ridden away from Lexington to distract the Redcoat patrol away from Hancock and Adams.  I did mention that this didn’t happen, right?  Well, when we get to Lexington Green, blood may shoot out of my eyes.

Blood shot out of my eyes. . .

The next scene is of men running through Lexington, supposedly the Lexington militia?  Maybe?  Seems logical as they’re running with their muskets in their hands.  And the camera backs up and we see the town and the alarm bell ringing and finally, as the camera pulls back even more, the Green itself.  It is portrayed as a huge open field some ways from town.

Which it wasn’t. 

In this drawing, you can see that the green was the center of town.  The road from Boston to Concord ran from right to left, toward the northwest.  At the meetinghouse, the road forked and the north road ran on the east side of the green, passed by Buckman’s Tavern.  Then at the “top” of the green, another road ran east.  This road was “residential” in that there were homes/farms along this road.  The men who lived here simply crossed the road to get to the green. 

So, please get the picture out of your mind that the Battle of Lexington Green was fought way out of town. 

Next we see the Redcoats – maybe fifty or so – I’d have to go back and count – please don’t make me – taking their place on the green.  And we have the “men of Lexington” running onto the green, muskets leveled at the Redcoats.  Major Pitcairn (without Scots accent) demands that the “men of Lexington” bring out Sam Adams and John Hancock.  Words are exchanged.  Muskets leveled on each side (notice the lack of bayonets on the Redcoat muskets) and then MAN OF LEXINGTON tells his men to let the Redcoats fire first.  Much shooting ensues.  Lotsa Patriot bodies . . .

Sigh.  Can we talk?

It didn’t happen that way. . .

 

Before I go further though, throughout this silly series, we see the same characters just moving from place to place as the day progresses.  Here, on the Green, we see this MAN OF LEXINGTON who is the focus of the scene.  In the series, he’s one of Sam Adam’s buds named Kelly.  He leads the Lexington men, gives them their order not to shoot first, then becomes a martyr to Pitcairn’s torture.  Balderdash!!!

In part 2, I’ll tell you what really happened. 

History Channel: Sons of Liberty – My Take

For several weeks, I’ve been posting reviews for the History Channel’s Sons of Liberty series on my Facebook page.  It quickly became obvious that the history was going to be sacrificed on the altar of entertainment.  In his article, Tom Verenna dissected the series in a powerful way.  But, Buck Sexton made a great point that, if the show isn’t entertaining, then it doesn’t matter if the history is right, no one will watch it. 

Okay.  Makes sense.  And a few friends were watching it and enjoying it despite it’s historical blasphemy.  So, we watched it this weekend.  It’s three episodes, each about two hours long.

And?  What was my review?  A full discussion of the April 19th, 1775 segments will follow in a series of posts.  But for now, let’s just say this:  I cried through most of the second episode and half of the third.

Tears of Joy?  Because I was seeing the settings and people I have come to love and respect and. . . Love on the screen before me, period settings and clothes on display?  Because I was so very entertained?

Well, no.  Though I did enjoy the period clothes and settings.  Anything that makes 1775 come alive before us is good, I suppose.  And, as long as I could watch it with my movie watching hat on, I was entertained.  But that became harder and harder to do after the first episode.

Tears of what then?

I think grief. Sadness. My husband posted today on his Facebook page that “the sheer distortion of the people and events that she has come to love ripped right through her.”  He’s right. 

The drama of April 19th, 1775 was the stuff legends are made of.  Most Americans have never even heard of the heroes and heroines of that day. And if they have, Paul Revere comes to mind, what they know is mixed with myth and fabrications.  A three part series could be made of that day, sticking moment by moment to the truth of that day and it would be just as entertaining as this series, if not more so.  It was the day America became America.  It was the true birthday of our nation. 

And while I don’t really want to take apart this series bit by bit – some will see it as being just so very negative – I want my readers to know the truth.  I think the truth is even better than the Sam and Paul’s Excellent Adventure that the History Channel brought us.  And, where I can, I’ll give kudos.  There are a few kudos to be had. 

So, go watch the series with the History Channel app before mid month, while it’s free.  And watch for my coming posts. 

Of Myths and Certain History

Some of my readers might know that I live near the #1 city park in the USA.  You might also know that I volunteer there.  The Garden of the Gods park is one of my very favorite places and I totally enjoy my Monday afternoons when I can share the park with visitors.

By now, you’re asking what this has to do with 1775.   Hold on, I’ll get to it.

This formation in the Garden of the Gods is called the Kissing Camels.  As you can see, the humps on the camels are not even close to the same size – heck one hump isn’t even on the same rock.  So, from some vantage points you can see a humpless camel.  This has led to a rather common myth – that one of the camels humps broke off.

Recently, we had a gentlemen visitor that told anyone who would listen, in great detail, about the lightning strike back in the 70’s that took out that hump and sent rock crashing down into the park.  If truth were measured by certainty, this story would have been 100% true.  Problem is, there is zero truth to the tale.  That rock formation has been the same at least back to when the park was donated to the city in 1909.  I had to follow after the storyteller and let the staff members know that his story was pure myth.

So, here’s the point.  I was recently engaged in a discussion about whether British troops were housed in civilians homes in 1775 against the homeowners wishes.  I have always heard that they were.  This scholar said I was wrong.  He assured me that the source documents are clear on the subject.

Maybe I am wrong on that one.  I do try to verify my facts with source documents if at all possible.  But the reality remains that it’s a wonder that, 240 years later, we can find anything even resembling the truth. 

 

Digging up the past

I continue to work on the Hannah Davis story.  My goal is to finish it this month as my NANOWRIMO goal.  For those of you who just went "tilt" – NANO is held every November.  National Novel Writing Month.  Writers around the world write madly on new projects and some on old projects trying to finish a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  Hannah’s story is already started, but I really want to get it finished.

And so I’m fleshing out secondary characters.  The men who marched off early on the morning of April 19th, and the community that waited at home.  I needed a list of the men who marched with Hannah’s husband that day.  Simple enough, right.  I mean, this is the age of the Internet.

Ahem.  Two problems.  The initial problem was that so many of the historical groups do not take good care of their websites.  Broken links abound.  Then, after digging and digging to find this list, I come to the realization that it’s not out there – at least not in the way the Lexington lists are.  I finally found "A" list hidden in a book that was online.  Thank goodness for small favors. 

There, I bumped into the second problem.  This list was made up years after the fact by the aged survivors of the battle.  Apparently, it was dangerous to make such lists. 

Why didn’t I think of that?

Probably because, try as we might, we just can’t quite get back into 1775 without taking our 21st-Century selves along for the ride. 

Hannah Davis did not have a Facebook Page.  Neither did the Acton Minutemen. 

This list will have to do.

… to unborn ages.

You’ve heard the phrase “too many irons in the fire.” Yes, that’s me. Once again, I need to prioritize my busy-ness. One of the things that fell through the cracks a bit is this blog. I missed a post or two. I shall do better.

Here’s another treasure from Charles Hudson’s History of the Town of Lexington Massachusetts (1868)

"The whole movement of General Gage was simply a secret expedition of a well-appointed corps to destroy a few unguarded military stores – a march through a country of un-offending citizens, where there were no troops to oppose. It was not an expedition into an enemy’s country in time of war; but a sort of excursion party in times of peace, sent out by the acknowledged Governor of the Province, some twenty miles into the country.

And yet the fate of two mighty empires hung upon the conduct of this party. Their excursion was among men who knew their rights, and knowing dared maintain them.

If their march was peaceable, and the rights of the people were respected, they had nothing to fear from the inhabitants. But if they should invade the rights of the citizens by destroying their property or ruthlessly entering their dwellings; and especially if their march should be marked by violence and massacre, it would in all probability cause a wound never to be healed. And yet this party, with a haughty disregard of the rights of the inhabitants, wantonly commenced a system of pillage and massacre, as though it were a mere holiday pastime ; and thus brought on a collision, the effects of which were not only felt in both hemispheres at that day, but may yet extend to unborn ages. "

Why write history?

Many of you know that I am not originally a “writer of history.” I am a published romance writer. As a kid I didn’t much like reading. I think I made it through high school without finishing more than two or three books. And then I read my first romance novel. And I was hooked.

I will admit that, in the beginning, I mostly read historical romances. They seemed to make history come alive. Real people. Real stories. When I started writing, though, I wrote contemporary romance. I guess I love the idea that love does win out in the end.

But now I’m writing history. So the question is why?

Sam Adams said, "It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men."

I believe that we must keep the stories of the founding of America alive, keep setting brushfires in the hearts and minds of our people. Or we’ll lose it all. All that these people gave everything for. Their stories are real and, though love doesn’t always win out in the end, their sacrifices did make a difference. And still do.

So why do other people write history? A few days ago, I was reading through some posts on a Revolutionary War board. An author was touting his book about the lead-up to the Revolution and mentioned that Amazon was offering it at a discount. I hopped over to Amazon to discover that the discounted price was $27. How many readers do you think he’ll get at that price?

Now, granted, he may not have set the price. He may be with a publisher of scholarly books who set their prices according to some view that their books are worth a lot more than others. Really? Why is that, I ask. Is that because the author did hours and hours and months and months of research? And the writer of historical fiction didn’t? Well, that’s just silly. Even the premier work on April 19th, 1775, Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer, sells for under $20. And he sure-as-shootin’ did his research. Almost half the book is footnotes.

So why the high price of history? You got me? But I do know the unintended consequence. Fewer readers. Fewer brushfires.

Bonnie Prince Charlie and “Free Scotland”

     As I write this blog post, the people of Scotland are voting – on Independence. As an American, even the mention of voting on “Independence” makes my heart sing. That’s likely a purely American reaction. Or is it?
     What has kept the hope of being an Independent, Free Scotland alive for more than two hundred years?
     After the rising of 1745, when the Highlanders followed Prince Charlie onto the field at Drumossie Moor, and were slaughtered in just over an hour, the Highlanders that remained were hunted down, tried for treason and hanged. Or they fled to America.
     Remember the scene in Braveheart after William Wallace’s father was killed? The funeral scene? Young William wanders outside to see pipers lit only by the bonfire they stand around, and asks his uncle what they’re doing.
     “Playing outlawed tunes on outlawed pipes,” his uncle replies. 

      That was the truth of it, too. Everything that made the Scots a distinct people was forbidden and the Scots could no longer be the Scots.
     But was it that very forbidding that kept the dream of a Free Scotland alive?  The Scots are a rather stubborn, "thistley" people, are they no?
     I am re-reading the Outlander books and there’s a passage in Dragonfly in Amber that takes place in 1968. Claire and Roger are discussing Bonnie Prince Charlie. Claire believes that Charles Stuart was a “fool, and a drunkard, and a weak, sill man.” The Highland Chiefs, she believed were enthralled with the Bonnie Prince’s silly dreams that had no chance of success.
     Her conversation with Roger continues and he comments that you can’t go anywhere in the Highlands without seeing Bonnie Prince Charlie paraphernalia in every tourist shop. The discussion continues as they glance at a wall that’s been graffiti’d with “FREE SCOTLAND.” (Even then.) Roger asks Claire if the historians and artists and vendors are wrong.
     “You still don’t understand, do you?” she said.
     And she continues.
     “You don’t know why,” she said. “You don’t know, and I don’t know, and we never will know. Can’t you see? You don’t know, because you can’t say what the end is—there isn’t any end. You can’t say, ‘This particular event’ was ‘destined’ to happen, and therefore all these other things happened. What Charles did to the people of Scotland – was that the ‘thing’ that had to happen? Or was it ‘meant’ to happen as it did, and Charles’s real purpose was to be what he is not – a figurehead, an icon? Without him, would Scotland have endured two hundred years of union with England, and still – still – have kept its own identity?”
     Diana Gabaldon might be onto something.
     Would drive for Independence have died in 1745 had the English not forbidden them to be Scots? Of course, like Claire, we’ll never know.
     But by this time tomorrow we will know how they’ve voted. And either way, there are costs to be paid. Freedom – or lack thereof – is never free.