Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Winston Churchill Born

Winston S. Churchill

Sir Winston Spencer Churchill was born on November 30, 1874 at Blenheim Palace, the home built for his famous ancestor the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, who led an allied victory against the French at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. As the future Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill would lead his nation to win even greater battles, first in the Battle of Britain and later in the ultimate defeat of Germany and Japan in World War II.

Winston Churchill was a soldier, journalist, writer, politician, historian and even an artist. A brilliant orator and a man of genius, he made many grave mistakes in his career but he was instrumental in keeping Great Britain and its Empire in the fight against Hitler's Germany in the early years of the Second World War when a Nazi victory seemed certain. When the United States finally declared war against the Axis powers (Germany, Japan, Italy) in December of 1941 Churchill knew that although the fighting was far from over, the war was all but won.

Throughout his life Churchill was a fervent supporter of the British Empire. As a soldier and a journalist he fought on the North-West frontier of India and took part in the Sudan expedition that culminated in the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. He was taken prisoner in the Boer War and escaped to write about his exploits. During the First World War he fought again as an officer on the Western Front.

Following in his fathers footsteps, Lord Randolph Churchill, he became a member of Parliament. He was First Lord of the Admiralty in both World Wars before becoming Prime Minister in 1940. He served as Prime Minister from 1940-1945 and again in 1951-1955.

Upon his death in 1965, Sir Winston S. Churchill was given an official state funeral, an honor generally reserved for royalty in Great Britain.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

An American Cemetery in France

Today, Thursday November 11, 2010, is Veteran's Day, a national holiday to commemorate all past and present war Veterans and the sacrifices they made for this country. The actual date marks the end of hostilities in the First World War (1914-1918) which was at the time called "the war to end all wars". Of course this common desire to bring an end to all wars has not yet borne fruit.

A lot of great poetry was inspired by that brutal conflict and many of the authors of that poetry did not survive the war. Alan Seeger was an American living in Paris when World War One began. He joined the French Foreign Legion and was subsequently killed in battle. A monument in Paris is dedicated to those Americans who volunteered to fight for France in the years before the U.S. entered the war. Some of Seeger's words are inscribed on the monument:

They did not pursue worldly rewards; they wanted nothing more than to live without regret, brothers pledged to the honor implicit in living one's own life and dying one's own death. Hail, brothers! Goodbye to you, the exalted dead! To you, we owe two debts of gratitude forever: the glory of having died for France, and the homage due to you in our memories.

This poignant poem, published posthumously, is his most famous work:

Rendezvous With Death

Alan Seeger (June 22, 1888 - July 4, 1916)

I HAVE a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade

And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
and lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Marines!

Today, November 10, 2010, is the 235th anniversary of the birth of the United States Marine Corps. The Corps was created in 1775 to serve as naval infantry during the American War for Independence. The Marines are America's shock troops. They have served in all of our nations wars, both declared and undeclared and in many "police actions" all over the globe.

There is a old saying in the U.S. Marine Corps that basically says that there is no such thing as a former Marine: "once a Marine, always a Marine." Those words, along with the Marine Corp motto, "Semper Fidelis- Always Faithful" are truly words to live by.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Battle of the Red Horse Tavern

"The Red Horse Tavern"

This Saturday, October 30, 2010, the last major Revolutionary War reenactment in New England will take place in Sudbury, Mass. Billed as "The Battle of the Red Horse Tavern", reenactors from all over the region portraying American, British and French soldiers from America's War for Independence will engage in two different battle scenarios for the public on the ample grounds of Longfellow's Wayside Inn.

The first action is scheduled to start at 11:00 a.m., followed by an intermission for lunch, with the final battle to take place at 1:15 p.m. The reenactment should be concluded by 2:30 p.m. As always after large events like these, there will be a meet-and-greet with the general public on the part of the reenactors to answer questions and perhaps pose for photos.

This event is sponsored by the 4th King's Own, the Sudbury Companies of Militia and Minute and our generous hosts at the Wayside Inn.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Old Ironsides Celebrates A Birthday

"Old Ironsides" is celebrating it's birthday today. The Boston Globe has a story here.

On October 21, 1797 the U.S.S. Constitution was officially launched from Edmund Hartt's shipyard in Boston. The U.S. frigate took part in actions against the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean, but the ship is most famous for the role it played in the War of 1812.

Old Ironsides defeated five British warships in a bitter war where the U.S. Navy was vastly outgunned by a superior British Navy. The U.S.S. Constitution was never defeated in war and has never been forgotten by the American people in peacetime.

The U.S. S. Constitution is the oldest commissioned Naval vessel still afloat and is open to the public for tours. The tours are given by U.S. Navy personnel at the old Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown, now a National Park.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

George III Proclaims American Colonies to be in Rebellion

George III

On the 23 of August 1775 King George III of Great Britain issued this proclamation declaring the American Colonies to be in open rebellion and how he meant to deal with the rebels:

Whereas many of our subjects in divers parts of our Colonies and Plantations in North America, misled by dangerous and ill designing men, and forgetting the allegiance which they owe to the power that has protected and supported them; after various disorderly acts committed in disturbance of the publick peace, to the obstruction of lawful commerce, and to the oppression of our loyal subjects carrying on the same; have at length proceeded to open and avowed rebellion, by arraying themselves in a hostile manner, to withstand the execution of the law, and traitorously preparing, ordering and levying war against us: And whereas, there is reason to apprehend that such rebellion hath been much promoted and encouraged by the traitorous correspondence, counsels and comfort of divers wicked and desperate persons within this realm: To the end therefore, that none of our subjects may neglect or violate their duty through ignorance thereof, or through any doubt of the protection which the law will afford to their loyalty and zeal, we have thought fit, by and with the advice of our Privy Council, to issue our Royal Proclamation, hereby declaring, that not only all our Officers, civil and military, are obliged to exert their utmost endeavours to suppress such rebellion, and to bring the traitors to justice, but that all our subjects of this Realm, and the dominions thereunto belonging, are bound by law to be aiding and assisting in the suppression of such rebellion, and to disclose and make known all traitorous conspiracies and attempts against us our crown and dignity; and we do accordingly strictly charge and command all our Officers, as well civil as military, and all others our obedient and loyal subjects, to use their utmost endeavours to withstand and suppress such rebellion, and to disclose and make known all treasons and traitorous conspiracies which they shall know to be against us, our crown and dignity; and for that purpose, that they transmit to one of our principal Secretaries of State, or other proper officer, due and full information of all persons who shall be found carrying on correspondence with, or in any manner or degree aiding or abetting the persons now in open arms and rebellion against our Government, within any of our Colonies and Plantations in North America, in order to bring to condign punishment the authors, perpetrators, and abetters of such traitorous designs.

Given at our Court at St. James's the twenty-third day of August, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, in the fifteenth year of our reign.

GOD save the KING.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Redcoats and Rebels

Old Sturbridge Village
One Old Sturbridge Road
Sturbridge, Mass. 01566

This weekend (August 7-8) Old Sturbridge Village is hosting its annual Redcoats and Rebels event. Revolutionary War re-enactors from all over New England will be on hand to demonstrate drill and musketry, the firing of cannon, camp life and mock battles for the viewing public. This is a great opportunity to visit OSV (or re-visit) to view this living history open-air museum.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

1,000 Great Places to Visit in Massachusetts

Massachusetts State House

It was announced today that a special committee in the Massachusetts legislature has compiled a list of 1,000 great places to visit in the state. This list was taken from an original entry of 2,000 places and was approved by Gov. Patrick. Coming from a political entity the list is perhaps more inclusive than one would expect and seems to be geared towards including sites from every city and town in the state. Here is the complete list from the WHDH Channel 7 News website.

The list has quite a number of entries for Colonial and Revolutionary War sites, to include the battlefields of Lexington and Concord, the Longfellow House in Cambridge and many of the historic sites on Boston's Freedom Trail.

There are many more places on the list with not quite as long a history - for instance the original Kelly's Roast Beef on Revere Beach makes the list. I'm glad Kelly's made the list because I have been going there for years - I highly recommend the seafood and roast beef sandwiches.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Freedom Trail Players

"Captain of the Guards"

An article in the Boston Globe regarding local tourist sights has created a small firestorm in the Boston areas Revolutionary War re-enacting community. The article concerns the Freedom Trail Players, a company that for the past few years has specialized in giving walking tours of Boston's famous Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail Players tour guides are noteworthy because the guides wear 18th century clothing and portray Colonial and Revolutionary War figures from the past.

Recently the company has added a small contingent of actors portraying soldiers of the British 10th Regiment of Foot, which was part of the garrison occupying the port of Boston from 1774-1776. Unfortunately, their portrayal of British soldiers belonging to an actual Regiment is to put it mildly, abysmal and is demeaning to the history of that Regiment, the British Army and the important role that Boston played in America's early history.

As a Revolutionary War re-enactor myself, I can easily spot the many errors in the drill, the uniforms and the general appearance of the actors as shown in the short video attached to the article. In fact the actors appear more suited to a "Pirates of the Caribbean" exhibit at Disneyworld than as actual British soldiers of the early Revolutionary War period.

What is really unfortunate in this, is that the tourists coming to Boston who happen to see their staged performances may mistake what they see as a real portrayal of British soldiers from that time period. For many years Revolutionary War re-enactors in this area have worked hard to create historically accurate portrayals of the British soldiers who served in the Boston garrison and fought valiantly at the Battles of Lexington and Concord and at Bunker Hill. "Street theater" of this caliber truly sets back that effort.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Battle of Waterloo

Battle of Waterloo

This is the 195th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. On Sunday 18 June 1815, near the town of Waterloo, in what is now Belgium, a coalition of British, Dutch and German forces under British commander Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington and his ally Marshall Blucher commanding a Prussian army, combined together to defeat the Emperor Napoleon and his French Imperial Army.

The Battle of Waterloo, along with the Battle of Gettysburg from the American Civil War, are perhaps the two most debated and written about battles in world history. As the Duke of Wellington aptly described the battle, it was "a near run thing".

The allied army was able to hold against severe French assaults throughout a long day giving time for the Prussian forces to join them in the late afternoon. The order for an army-wide advance was then given and the ranks of the French Grande Armee collapsed and either surrendered or fled from the field, only to be chased by vengeful Prussian soldiers and cavalry. The exception to this general rout was Napoleon's Old Guard which stubbornly retired from (and died on) the field with honor.

Napoleon surrendered to his enemies and spent his last days in captivity on the island of St. Helena. He died in 1821. The "Iron Duke" was showered with honors, ultimately serving as both the Prime Minister of England and at the time of his death in 1852 was Commander-in-Chief of the British Army.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

Patrick Henry

On this date in 1775 Patrick Henry gave his most famous speech in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Revolutionary fervor was sweeping the colonies and by late 1774 the colony of Massachusetts, for just one example, was almost in open rebellion. Patrick Henry took to the floor of the Virginia legislature and in part, spoke these fiery words:

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"

Just a month later on the 19th of April the fighting at Lexington and Concord took place and a shooting war between Great Britain and its thirteen colonies had begun.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Stamp Act Passes in Parliament

The Stamp Act

The Stamp Act was passed in the British Parliament in London on this date in 1765. This bill was designed to help pay for the huge debt created by the recently concluded Seven Years War (the French and Indian War in North America) by taxing the American Colonies. The act required that all legal documents, legal licenses, broadsides, newspapers, decks of playing cards, etc. , printed in the Colonies had to have a special embossed stamp. The stamped papers were to be sold by the British Colonial authorities with the tax varying according to the particular item.

The passage of this bill created a huge protest in the colonies, which surprised the members of Parliament and the King's cabinet. (A similar stamp act had already gone into effect in England). The colonists were used to paying special taxes, but expected the taxes to be levied by their own elected or appointed legislatures and Governors. This act was viewed as "taxation without representation" and many throughout the Colonies called for its immediate repeal. The Stamp Act was the beginning of the radicalization of America and its first movements towards independence.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Paramount Theater Re-opens

Paramount Theater
549-69 Washington St.
Boston, Mass.

A small piece of Boston's 20th century history reopened this month with the completion of the renovations of the Paramount Theater in downtown Boston. First built in 1932 and owned by Paramount Studios the original theatre was designed in a classic art deco style and seated as much as 1500 patrons. The theater is now owned and run by Emerson College and will stage live theater productions. The modern interior design has been done in the exact style of the original theatre, which closed in 1976.

When I was growing up back in the sixties and seventies it was still quite common to go into downtown Boston and watch movies at one of several converted (or original) movie theaters with just one large screen. I can actually remember the last time I went to the old Paramount Theatre. It was to see the movie "Kidnapped", which was based upon the famous Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson's novel and starred Michael Caine. This had to be in 1971 when the movie first came out.

Not long after the showing of "Kidnapped" the Paramount fell on hard times and began showing R-rated and then X-rated adult movies. Although the downtown shopping area is still lacking a lot of the life and vibrancy that it once had, this is a good step in the right direction for Boston.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patricks Day!

St. Patrick

Today is St. Patrick's Day, not only a state holiday in Ireland but also a popular holiday in the U.S. and Great Britain due to the diaspora of the Irish from Ireland in the 19th century. St. Patrick's Day is also the anniversary of the British Army and Navy beginning the evacuation of occupied Boston in 1776 during the American Revolution. This is celebrated as Evacuation Day in Massachusetts and is considered a state holiday in Suffolk County and for many state employees.

The importance of St. Patrick's Day and the juxtaposition of Evacuation Day in the city of Boston and its environs today is somewhat ironic in that during the time of the Revolution, Catholicism was very unpopular. There were many reasons for this, to include King Henry VIII's bitter break with the Roman Catholic Church, the constant threat of attack from the French-Catholic settlements in Canada (a threat which ended at the conclusion of the French and Indian War) and most importantly the founding of Boston by the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

For many years Bostonians celebrated Popes Day on November 5 (Guy Fawkes Day in England). The day was marked by bonfires and the dragging around of a stuffed dummy that represented the Catholic Pope. Anti-Catholic feeling was to continue for many years in Boston and even led to street riots and attacks upon our French allies during America's War for Independence on the occasion of military set-backs during the war.

The old ways changed along with the demographics of Boston and many of America's city's when the Irish began to emigrate to the New World in large numbers. This was to have a great affect on America and especially its politics. The effects were most pronounced in the nations big city's and eventually led to the election of two Presidents of Irish-American descent. The influx of Irish immigrants also was to greatly aid the Union Army during America's Civil War.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre

On this date in 1770 British soldiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot opened fire upon a unruly crowd of Boston citizens. Five Bostonians died and eleven more were wounded. This event came to be popularly referred to as the Boston Massacre and was memorialized for years afterward on this date.

The tradition continues tomorrow when a number of events are taking place at the Old State House including a reenactment of the actual "massacre". The reenactment starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Old State House at the head of State St.(formerly known as King St.). J.L. Bell does his usual excellent job and gives a fuller account of the days events in his blog Boston 1775.

The British soldiers and their officer were placed on trial for the "murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr". They were defended in part by John Adams of Braintree, who became an ardent supporter of American independence and a future U.S. President. The soldiers were acquitted of all charges, except two soldiers who were found guilty of manslaughter. They were branded with the letter "m" on their thumbs and released.

The Brattle Book Shop on 9 West St. in Boston, interestingly enough, has a copy of the account of the trial for sale in their rare book section.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Colonel Loammi Baldwin

Col. Loammi Baldwin

Col. Loammi Baldwin was a noted soldier, politician and has been called the Father of American Civil Engineering because of his role in surveying and building the Middlesex Canal and his other public works projects.

Born in Woburn, Massachusetts, Baldwin was a friend and fellow student at Harvard College with Benjamin Thompson, also of Woburn. Thompson later became better known as Count Rumford.

Baldwin joined the Woburn militia in 1774. On April 19, 1775 Baldwin was a major in the Woburn militia and took part in the fighting on that date. He joined Col. Gerrish's regiment and was later promoted to the command of that regiment. Baldwin fought in the Battle of Brooklyn Heights and crossed the Delaware with Gen. Washington to join in the attack on the Hessian troops at Trenton. He retired from the Army in 1777 due to health concerns.

Col. Baldwin became Sheriff of Middlesex County and served in the Massachusetts House. He was a member of the American Academy of Sciences and contributed papers to the society. The Baldwin apple is named for him.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The War of the Roses

The War of the Roses (1445-1485) was a bitter civil war fought between the House's (noble families) of Lancaster and of York, who were each contending to place their own heirs on the throne of England. Supporters of the House of Lancaster wore red roses on their livery, while the House of York wore white roses.

On 22 August 1485 in the Battle of Bosworth Field King Richard III of the House of York was killed, effectively ending the War of the Roses. (This event was the inspiration of Shakespeare's famous lines from Richard III, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"). The victor of the battle Henry Tudor was crowned Henry VII, King of England. The Tudor dynasty took as its symbol a red rose with a white center. The Tudors, which included King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, ruled England for 118 years and set the nation on the path to become a great naval and world power.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Abraham Lincoln Born

Abraham Lincoln

On this date in 1809 Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. Although largely self-taught, Lincoln became a lawyer, legislator and Representative from the state of Illinois. In 1860 he was elected as the first Republican President of the United States.

Viewed as a strident abolitionist, his election led to a declaration of secession first by the state of South Carolina and then by several other southern slave states. This was the beginning of a bitter four year long civil war.

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Fords theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth a famous stage actor and southern sympathizer. This was just five days after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. He died the next day as a result of his wounds.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


33 Elmwood Avenue
Cambridge, Mass.

Currently owned by Harvard University, Elmwood, this Georgian mansion in Cambridge, has had ties to Harvard College throughout its almost 250 year history. Elmwood was built in 1767 by Thomas Oliver, a wealthy merchant born in Antigua who graduated from Harvard College in 1753. Appointed by King George III to the position of Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, he left Cambridge in 1774 for Boston as revolutionary fervor swept the colony. His home was confiscated by Revolutionary authorities. Oliver died in Brighton, England in 1815.

In 1787 Elbridge Gerry bought the estate, which included some 34 acres attached to the "homestead". Elbridge Gerry, born in Marblehead, Mass. , was also a graduate of Harvard College. He was an important member of the First and Second Continental Congress during the Revolution, signed the Declaration of Independence, was a diplomat and served as Governor of Massachusetts. In March 1813 he took the oath of office for Vice-President of the United States here at Elmwood. He died in 1814.

James Russell Lowell was born at Elmwood on 22 February 1819. Lowell, a famous poet and diplomat, lived most of his life at Elmwood. A graduate of both Harvard University and Harvard Law School, he was also a Professor of Languages at Harvard. Like his fellow Cantabrigian and friend, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Lowell often wrote about Cambridge and its environs in his poetry. Elmwood was also a frequent topic. Unfortunately, much as he loved his home and property, over time he was forced to sell off a good portion of the estate to meet his financial needs. Lowell died in 1891.

Elmwood is currently occupied by the President of Harvard and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Boy Scouts of America Founded

On this date in 1910 the Boy Scouts of America was founded. The BSA is based on the British Scouting organization founded in 1907 by General Robert Baden-Powell, who won fame in the Boer War. According to a famous story, William D. Boyce of Chicago visited London and had been given some aid and directions by a British Scout. This made such an impression on him that upon his return to the U.S. he decided to start an American version of the youth group.

The Boy Scouts of America presently has a membership of 4 million. Many years ago I was a member of a Boy Scout troop, an experience from which I have a lot of great memories. To this day I can still recite from memory the Boy Scout Law: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stolen Plaque Recovered

The Old Belfry Plaque

Some good news for the Lexington community and for history buffs everywhere - the bronze plaque that marked the site of the Old Belfry that was stolen recently from Lexington Battle Green has been recovered safe and sound as reported here in the Wicked Local News from the Lexington Minuteman. Apparently a sharp eyed passerby spotted the plaque lying in some overgrown bushes a few feet from the edge of the road on Waltham St. in Lexington. With the help of Sgt. Chris Barry of the Lexington police the plaque was picked up and is now back in its rightful hands. It is not known how long the plaque had been laying there before being found.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

History Under Fire

Brandywine National Park

The latest issue of Preservation magazine has this story, entitled "History Under of Fire", which reports that many states are responding to budget deficits by closing important historic sites. The magazine, published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, focuses on Pennsylvania where a number of important Revolutionary War battlefields and other historic sites have been closed. Volunteer organizations have stepped into the breach to keep these important places open to the public, but there is real fear that the loss of funding will lead to deterioration of the properties and even permanent closings.