Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fort at #4 - Charlestown, New Hampshire

Fort at #4
267 Springfield Rd.
Rte. 11
Charlestown, N. H. 03603

The Fort at #4, in Charlestown, New Hampshire is a living history museum featuring a rebuilt 1740 palisade-style timber fort. Situated overlooking the Connecticut River the Fort was, at the time it was built, strategically located to protect the Massachusetts and later the New Hampshire frontier.

Prior to and during King Georges War (1744-1748) and the French and Indian War (1754 -1763), settlers in this area were subject to raids from both French and/or Indian war parties. Building and keeping the fort manned was considered very important in keeping northern Massachusetts towns safe from attack. This was also a way station for colonial and British troops on their way back and forth from the Forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point in the later stages of the French and Indian War.

Captain Robert Rogers of Roger's Rangers fame is also associated with the Fort at #4. After conducting his successful raid on the Abenaki Indians settlement at St. Francis, Canada Rogers and his men faced a hazardous excursion. Having suffered only light casualties during the actual raid, the Rangers then had to travel through miles of dense forest while being pursued by the French and Native American tribesmen. Many of the Rangers were killed, wounded or captured during the pursuit. Finally arriving at the safety of the Fort at #4 the worn out surviving Rangers were met with much needed food and drink. The Rangers under Lt. John Stark also were responsible for building a military road between the fort and Crown Point in New York.

During the Revolutionary War the now deserted and dilapidated Fort was used by General John Stark again as a rallying point for Colonial soldiers.

The present day Fort was built in the 196o's in the town of Charlestown, New Hampshire. The Fort at #4 is owned by a non-profit organization operating as a Living History Museum and often hosting both French and Indian and Rev War reenactors. It is open to the public for the rest of the Summer and into the Fall, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. It closes for the season in November and reopens in May.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Redcoats to Rebels

Old Sturbridge Village
One Old Sturbridge Village Road
Sturbridge, Mass.

This Saturday and Sunday (August 2 -3) Old Sturbridge Village is offering a weekend program called "Redcoats to Rebels". Revolutionary War reenactors from New England, New York and Pennsylvania, will be recreating camp life as well as offering a glimpse of the military drill and infantry tactics of that period. Musket and cannon firing demonstrations will be offered, as well some skirmishing between the Colonial forces and the Redcoats. (Always a crowd pleaser.)

Over forty different Rev War reenacting groups, representing actual historic French, American, British and Hessian military units, will be at OSV this weekend, making it much larger than last years Revolutionary War event. Just like last year, the 4th or the King's Own Light Company will be there, but with even more members. Additionally, there will be some 18th century music and song provided by the Roaring Lions. (They are primarily a Loyalist group, but you don't have to be loyal to King George to join in on the fun).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wind power on Old Cape Cod

Old East Mill
Heritage museums & gardens
67 Grove St.
Sandwich, Mass.

Years ago windmills, like this windmill in Sandwich, could have been found all over Cape Cod. Water power was always the preferred method for powering mills, but the lack of rivers and streams on the Cape led to using wind power instead. As times changed and the windmills were no longer needed, attrition reduced the number of windmills on the Cape. At the present time there are only a handful left.

The first windmills on the Cape were built in the early 1600's at Plymouth. Many of the original founders of the Plymouth Colony had lived in Holland prior to coming to the New World, giving a Dutch influence to the windmills. As the Pilgrims began to spread further out onto the Cape, establishing the towns of Sandwich, Eastham and others, more windmills were built.

In addition to grinding grain, windmills were used in the Cape's salt industry, both to grind it and to produce it from (evaporated) seawater. Salt was vital to the Cape's largest employer, the fishing industry.

The Old East Mill was built in 1800 in Orleans. By 1893 the mill had fallen into disuse as it had become cheaper to purchase milled grain from the mid-west. In 1968 the mill was purchased and moved to its present location by the founder of the Heritage museums and gardens, J. K. Livy III.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Heritage museums & gardens
67 Grove St.
Sandwich, Mass. 02563

For as long as mankind has been sailing the Seven Seas, there have been Pirates. Down through history Kings, Queens and the common people of coastal and seafaring nations were bedeviled by and had to learn how to deal with these salt water criminals.

As a young man Julius Caesar was captured by Cilician pirates and held for ransom. While being held captive he promised that once he was freed he would hunt down and punish his captors. He kept his promise.

Queen Elizabeth I of England had her own pirates, to include Captain's Drake and Hawkins, whose raids on Spain's New World Empire met her tacit approval and gained her profit. During the Great Age of Sail warring nations often sent out privateers - sailing vessels that were privately-owned but were authorized to raid merchant ships flying enemy flags. Neutral shipping was exempt from these attacks. Participants in this legal form of piracy often fell into the temptation of attacking vessels of all nations and becoming full-time pirates. Captain Kidd was thought to be guilty of this and was taken prisoner in Boston in 1699. Sent to England for trial, he was found guilty of Piracy by a London Admiralty Court and was hung on May 23, 1701.

The classic type of Pirate that we are most familiar with from our books and in films, such as Long John Silver of "Treasure Island" fame and "Captain Blood", are fictionalized versions of the real Pirates that roamed the Atlantic and the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries. They are portrayed as swashbuckling, anti-heroes leading romantic lives of adventure, accumulating treasure and free from the constraints of society. There is a grain of truth to this. Pirates were often men attracted by the prospect of gathering riches and perhaps, the freedom of sailing from port to port, having no allegiance to any government or other men. Along with this came a life full of violence, often prematurely shortened, making it in very many cases a Faustian bargain.

The Heritage museums and gardens in Sandwich, Mass. is currently offering an exhibit entitled "A Short Life and Merry - Pirates of New England". The exhibit includes Hollywood memorabilia, historical displays and period artifacts all relating to the subject of Pirates. Open Daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Exhibit ends October 31, 2008. The museums are closed to the public from January to March.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Battle Green, Lexington, Mass.

Battle Green
Lexington Center

Lexington, Mass.

In the early morning hours of April 19, 1775 a small expeditionary force of British soldiers, some 700 strong, entered the town of Lexington. Following the orders of their commander, General Gage, this mixed force of Grenadiers and Light infantry, led by Lt. Colonel Smith of the 10th Regiment, were hoping to quickly pass through Lexington and proceed onward to Concord.

General Gage was in receipt of new orders from London. More army regiments were being sent to Boston from England and Ireland to assist him, but in the meantime he was to take more proactive measures against the budding rebellion in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Looking to follow up on the success of seizing powder from the colonial Powder House in Charlestown in September of 1774, Gage developed the much more ambitious plan of seizing the supplies at Concord.

Through the efforts of Dr. Warren and the Sons of Liberty his plans were soon learned and a watch was kept on the British garrison. When on April 18 it was observed preparations were being made for the expeditionary force, alarm riders were sent out into the countryside to warn the militia and to order out the "Minute Men" companies.

As for Colonel Smith, his mission depended upon secrecy and speed. Unfortunately for him and his men, the secret was out and his small force met up with a number of delays. Instead of being in Concord by sunrise, they were still in Lexington. Instead of meeting no armed resistance, they faced Captain Parker and his men on the village green. The skirmish that followed dashed the hopes of the British command for a bloodless coup
and a bloody war for freedom was begun.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

William Blaxton

William Blaxton Plaque
Beacon St.
Boston, Mass.

The Reverend William Blaxton (1595-1675) was the first European settler on the Shawmut peninsula - the future site of the Town of Boston. The peninsula was dominated by three large hills overlooking forested land, a protected harbor and a river (the Charles) that emptied into a marshy estuary. Connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land, Shawmut was quite secluded and private - which, according to old accounts, was just how Rev. Blaxton liked it.

An Anglican Minister, educated at Cambridge in England, Blaxton arrived in the New World in 1623 with a group of settlers. When his fellow travelers moved back to England in 1625, Blaxton stayed on and settled onto Shawmut, living by himself. In 1629 Puritan settlers, seeking to establish a Massachusetts Bay Colony, arrived in what is now Charlestown - just across the harbor from Shawmut. Founding a viable community in that location proved to be difficult due to a lack of drinking water.

The official version of what happened next is that in 1630 Reverend Blaxton invited his new neighbors to come share the peninsula with him. At this time Shawmut consisted of some 487 acres of land, so there was plenty of room. John Winthrop, the governor of the colony, then made a deal with Blaxton buying the rights to the land, but leaving him with some 45 acres. This acreage encompassed a portion of Beacon Hill and the Boston Common.

In 1634, finding the Puritans difficult to live with - they were fervent believers in religious intolerance - Blaxton ended up selling his land back to them. The Boston Common (land) was thereby established and used for the training of militia and the grazing of cattle. After the sale Rev. Blaxton headed south and built a home in what is now part of Rhode Island.

Roger Williams was yet another refugee from Governor Winthrop's "city on a hill" who headed for Rhode Island. The two men became friendly and the Reverend Blaxton often gave sermons to Williams flock. Blaxton lived in a solitary house on a hill overlooking a river and filled the home with books. He married late in life and had one child. Blackstone Massachusetts, the Blackstone River and its valley are all named after him.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Fort Sewall, Marblehead, Mass.

Fort Sewall
N/E end of Front St.
Marblehead, Mass.

Originally a part of the Town of Salem, by 1622 fisherman were making use of Marblehead harbor and its surroundings. The first settlers arrived here in 1629 and soon established their own community. Years later, still seeking to become fully independent of Salem and looking to provide for their own defense, it was determined to build fortifications on what was then called Gale's Head. In 1644 the General Court provided two cannon and some ammunition and a Fort of simple earthwork construction was built.

Due to the fear of French raiders, the Fort was expanded into the size and layout that we find today. This work was completed in 1742. By the time of the American Revolution the fort had a few cannon, with some powder and it had a small garrison. But it was during the War of 1812 that Fort Sewall played in its most important, or at least its most famous, role.

On Sunday April 3, 1814 the U.S.S. Constitution was being closely pursued by two British frigates, the Tenedos and the Endymion. Outgunned by the combined firepower of the two vessels, the Captain of "Old Ironsides" chose the better part of valor and sailed into Marblehead harbor, under the protective guns of the Fort. The famous fighting ship was saved to fight yet another day.

It was in that same year (1814) that the Fort was named after Marblehead resident and Chief Justice of Massachusetts, Samuel Sewall. In 1860, with the outbreak of the Civil War and facing a new enemy, the town appropriated money to again make needed repairs to the old fort. Along with funds from the U.S. government the work was completed and the Fort was manned by men from Massachusetts.

In 1922 custody of Fort Sewall was given over to the Town of Marblehead for the creation of a public park. The cannon and the gun emplacements are now long gone. What you will find instead is a paved walkway around the "bowl" of the Fort, with benches for seating. Some of the offices and guard rooms remain, but entrance to the lower magazines is blocked off.

The park is open from dawn to dusk, providing an excellent view of Marblehead harbor. There are restrooms located on site, but parking is limited.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fort Washington, Cambridge, Mass.

Fort Washington
95 Waverly St.
Cambridge, Mass.

During the siege of Boston, in November of 1775, General George Washington ordered three "half-moon batteries" to be built on the banks of the Charles River. Built on a narrow part of the Charles these gun batteries were meant to prevent British naval vessels from sailing upriver from Boston Harbor. As far as it is known, they never fired their guns in anger. Fort Washington is the only one of the three still extant.

After the occupation of Boston was lifted in March of 1776, Gen. Washington and the war headed south. The three cannon that had been placed here were removed at that time, but the earthworks remained. Bordering the marshy estuary of the Charles River, in a lightly settled area, the earthworks remained undisturbed. The land passed into the hands of the Dana family, who recognizing it's historical significance, worked to preserve it for posterity.

In 1857 working with City and State officials, a park was created and it was at that time given the name Fort Washington. Funding was provided and an ornate black iron fence, depicting cannon, was built around the site. Three artillery pieces from old Fort Warren were provided by the State (of later vintage than the Revolutionary War) to replace the missing cannon.

But as time passed the park was neglected and during the 1970's a visitor looking for Fort Washington would have had difficulty finding it. At that time the park was in the midst of property owned by a major trucking company. The fence had fallen into disrepair and was missing in several sections.

With the arrival of America's Bicentennial and with the work and contributions of many organizations, over time the fence was repaired and the park spruced up. The trucking company has moved on and a number of R&D companies have moved into the area. The Fort no longer has a view of the river, but it does have a much more airy atmosphere to it than it did at times in the past.

Unfortunately, in the last few years Fort Washington has become a haven for local dog owners. Modern swing gates have been added and "chicken fencing" now covers the lowest portion of the historic fence so that small dogs cannot escape. The earthworks has at times been burrowed into by the dogs and the grass in the park is bare in many spots.

There has been some protest about this and perhaps as a result, as of this date, Fort Washington is closed to the public for the summer and is undergoing "renovations".

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

In what may be considered simply a recognition of what was already in progress - an American rebellion - the Second Continental Congress representing the thirteen colonies and meeting in Philadelphia, on July 2, 1776 voted for independence from Great Britain. On July 4, 1776 the declaration of that independence - the formal document written by five committeemen of the Congress - was voted on and approved. (John Adams of Massachusetts writing at the time considered July 2 to be the more important date).

This was a day that many members of the Congress had dreaded would come. It was a frightening prospect - officially and finally declaring that the thirteen colonies were in open rebellion against their monarch, King George the III and the British Parliament.

The fighting on April 19, 1775 in Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the appointment of a commanding General of the Continental Army and the raising of that army - all of these events had already taken place. The British Army had been forced to evacuate Boston in March of 1776 and was even now massing for an assault on General Washington's forces in and around New York and Brooklyn.

Like many of the battles to come in the next seven years, this was a battle the American Army would lose. But finally with the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown and facing a strong American - French alliance, the British government decided to cut its losses and accepted what the Declaration of July 4, 1776 so stated - America's independence.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Old Burying Ground, Lexington, Mass.

Old Burying Ground
99 Harrington Road
Lexington, Mass.
The old burying ground in Lexington can be found just west of Lexington Green, near the Unitarian Church on Harrington Road. A large boulder marks the narrow foot path which leads to the entrance of the cemetery.

The burial ground dates back to 1690 when this area was still part of Cambridge. It wasn't until 1710 that the town of Lexington became its own parish. At the time of the Revolution, Lexington was mostly dairy farms, providing milk for Boston.

Additional lots were added over the years increasing the size of the cemetery. In time several hundred of Lexington's citizens were buried here. Among those that can be found here are the grave sites of the Reverends John Hancock and Jonas Clarke, Captain John Parker and an unknown British soldier, who was wounded in the fighting on April 19, 1775. He died three days later while being cared for at Buckman Tavern, just across the Battle Green from here.

Lexington remained largely an agricultural town until well into the 20th century. With the construction of Route 128/95 after the Second World War, and the population shift into Boston's suburbs, Lexington became the prosperous bedroom community it is today.