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."