Context and Culloden

One of the many complaints I have about the way history is taught in schools is how disconnected it is. I was visiting yesterday with a former history teacher that said she remembered one test she had to give that had a number of famous generals that the kids had to identify by first, middle and last name. If the student missed any part of that the answer was wrong.

What is that about? Does that kind of “history” light a fire in students that will lead them to finding out who they are? I’m not thinking so.

History is STORY. It’s real people set in real circumstances who have their own context.

Here’s an example: General Thomas Gage.

In his book, Paul Revere’s Ride, David Hackett Fischer puts General Gage into context.

In 1775, Gage was a man trying hard to avoid war. Gage had been a soldier for over thirty years. And he was a good commander, a good soldier. But he had learned to detest war.

In 1745, he’d been present at Fontonoy, one of the bloodiest battles in the 18th Century, where 30,000 men fell on Flander’s Field.

One year later, he watched the defeat of the Highland Clans on Drumossie Moor. The slaughter at Culloden broke the Highlanders, leaving that field knee-deep in blood and tartan.

Gage then was sent to America, where he commanded the vanguard of General Braddock’s expedition against the French. That mission turned to disaster as the British troops were ambushed by the French and Indians. General Braddock was killed. Gage, though wounded, kept the way open for George Washington and his men to escape. Ironic.

By April 19th, 1775, Gage was a man who wanted peace. But he was stuck between those pesky Insurrectionists and King George. The King had ordered Gage to put this rebellion down. After the Powder Alarm of September ‘74, Gage realized that his troops were sorely outnumbered and asking the Parliament for 20,000 more men. Parliament said no.

Gage’s only option, at that point, was to use the troops he had to disarm the American Patriots.

I guess the point is: Context. Without context, how can history mean anything? What was Thomas Gage’s middle name, anyway?

PC Crap: Adding Insult to Injury – Part One

Welcome to Munroe Tavern, the sign says, ‘Museum of the British Redcoats and Munroe Family Home.” Hold on one cotton-pickin’ minute there hoss!

Are we talking about THE Munroe Tavern, here?

A little backstory, please.

On April 19th, 1775, Munroe Tavern was owned and operated by Will Munroe. Sgt Will served as second in command on Lexington Green that morning. Will was the great-grandson of another William Munroe, who was brought to the New World in chains as a Scottish prisoner of war. Once he worked off his slave sentence, he moved to what became Lexington and did quite well for himself and his progeny. Even so, knowing the Scots as I do, there was sure to be leftover animus against the “English.”

And, in 1775, there was additional reason for this Scots family to dislike – dare I say – hate all things Redcoat. As the Redcoat Army swept back through Lexington, they were burning and looting as they went. When they finally met up with Percy and their reinforcements, they commandeered the tavern as a temporary field hospital.

Will Munroe had left his crippled handyman, John Raymond, in charge of the Tavern as he went off to fight. When the tavern was taken over, Will’s wife and three young children  – ages seven, four and two – fled to the woods. John was forced to serve the Redcoats under penalty of harm. When things began getting out of hand, with shots fired in the tavern and things broken by out-of-sorts Redcoats, John tried to make his escape. He was shot in the back as Anna and the children watched from the woods.

Before leaving the tavern, the Redcoats set fire to the place. Luckily, someone was there quick enough to put the fire out and save the tavern from the same fate as the neighbors’ properties.

In the next post, I’ll tell you the rest of the unbelievable story.  Will Munroe might be spinning in his grave.

Part Two


The Clock

Nathaniel Mulliken (1722 -1777) Lexington, Massachusetts.

Nathaniel Mulliken made this clock.  That, in itself is not that great a deal.  What’s great about seeing this clock is that, after April 19th, 1775, there were no more clocks made my Nathaniel.

Nathaniel wasn’t dead, or even injured that we know of.  But he would never make another clock.  It is said that his youngest brother, Joseph made cabinets for clock but Joseph was only ten when Nathaniel stopped making clocks.

Okay, enough silliness and suspense.

Remember I’ve talked about how dangerous a retreating army is?  Well, that’s exactly what the town of Lexington experienced on the afternoon of April 19, 1775.  The Redcoats were in disarray.  The most feared army in the world had just been undone by the Rebel Alliance made up of farmers and tradesman and they left Concord, beating a hasty and disorganized – and just plain fearful – retreat back to Boston – 18 miles away.

They were tired, hungry, running out of ammunition and had to run the gauntlet made up of thousands of Colonial militia men and minutemen.  When they got to Lexington, thankfully, they were met by reinforcements sent by General Gage.  Lord Percy set up cannons at the Munroe Tavern and gathered the tired and wounded Redcoats there to rest and get medical attention.

Just down the road from the Tavern, lay the Mulliken home and clock shop.  It too was commandeered by the Redcoats.  At least one dead Redcoat soldier would be found later in the day with a Mulliken clock works in his pocket.  When the Redcoats left Lexington, they burned the Mulliken property and several others to the ground.

Nathaniel would soon join the Continental Army and would not return.

Hence, no more Mulliken clocks.


The White Cockade

Tradition tells us that, when the militias began the march down Punkatasset Hill toward the North Bridge of Concord on that fateful day, the piper (Luther Blanchard) played a little tune called The White Cockade.  This tune was said to have been the signature tune of the Acton Minutemen, Captain Isaac Davis’s men.

This would have been an in-your-face affront to the Redcoats at the bottom of the hill.  Why?  Well, the White Cockade was a well known Jacobite tune.  It was a Scottish tune referring back to the the rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie during the uprising of ’45. In 1970, Robert Burns put words to the tune.

The uprising of ’45 was an attempt by the Bonnie Prince to take over the English thrown for the House of Stewart.  The Highland Scots were huge supporters of Charlie and, when the uprising was quelled by the English army, it ended with one of the bloodiest battles in all of history at Culloden.  Of note, one of the reasons General Gage was so determined to quell the resistance in the Colonies was because he’d been at Culloden and was just so tired of bloodshed.  Totally understandable.

This began the Highland clearances that send thousands and thousands of Scots to America.  Interestingly, part of the town of Lexington was, at one point, called Scotland.  The Scots/Irish were said to have made up at least forty percent of the Colonial Army. The Munroe Clan (of Munroe Tavern fame) lost the most members on April 19th.  Many other families had deep Scottish roots as well.

Here are the works Robbie Burns penned to the tune.

The White Cockade

My love was born in Aberdeen,
The bonniest lad that e’er was seen;
But now he makes our hearts fu’ sad,
He’s taen the field wi’ his white cockade.

O he’s a rantin, rovin blade,
He’s a brisk and a bonny lad,
Betide what may, my heart is glad,
To see my lad wi his white cockade.

Oh leeze me on the philabeg
The hairy hough and garten’d leg;
But aye the thing that blinds my ee,
The white cockade aboun the bree.

I’ll sell my rock, I’ll sell my reel,
My rippling-kame and spinning wheel,
To buy my lad a tartan plaid,
A braidsword, dirk, and white cockade.

I’ll sell my rokelay and my tow,
My good grey mare and hawkit cow,
that every loyal Buchan lad
May tak the field wi the white cockade.

Lyrics by Robert Burns.