"THE TRUTH FACTOR" BLOG
Only the hardiest could survive such a journey.
And it’s a credit to the expedition’s resolve and fortitude that only one casualty happened (Charles Floyd)…and he died of appendicitis not from the elements or attack.
Nevertheless, the Corps of Discovery never would’ve made it past the Bitterroots of Montana had it not been for two Indian women.
The first one is as famously-known as Lewis and Clark themselves. But the second is largely lost to history and often overlooked in the stories about the Corps of Discovery.
The first woman to save the Corps of Discovery was a young Shoshone slave girl named Sacagawea.
She was only 20 years old when she served Lewis and Clark’s expedition, but she helped the men to survive the rivers, weather, hunger and other Indians. And she did it with a baby on her back. In many ways, Sacagawea was herself still a kid. A decade earlier, she had been enslaved by the Hidatsa Indians and taken far from her Lemhi-Shoshone homelands in southwest Montana and eastern Idaho.
The Shoshone were known for their collection of horses, but they were also bullied by other Indian tribes, particularly the Hidatsa and Blackfoot. Sacagawea was eventually sold to a French fur trader named Touissaint Charbonneau. She was his second Indian wife and they wintered at the Mandan Villages in 1804 alongside the Corps of Discovery. Sacagawea was pregnant and Lewis delivered her baby only weeks before they set out for Montana. Her Shoshone heritage proved a godsend for the Corps. They needed horses once they reached the Missouri headwaters and the Shoshone were the dealers from whom to buy. But to get Sacagawea, the Corps had to hire Charbonneau too (whose his skills, attitudes and contributions proved far less desirable).
Many historians now believe Sacagawea and baby Jean Baptiste centered the young, rowdy explorers (who were prone to find trouble) and brought peace. And the presence of a woman and baby leading a pack of men calmed the Indian tribes they encountered. Indian women didn’t accompany their men into battle. Sacagawea’s presence (with child) was like a “white flag” of peace. It’s likely why many tribes embraced these white explorers.
In fact, the only serious scrape with Indians happened on the return trip, when the expedition broke into three different groups. That’s when Lewis encountered the dangerous Blackfeet Indians on the eastern edge of present-day Glacier National Park. It’s the only time the expedition fired a shot. On that day two Blackfeet Indians laid dead. And where was Sacagawea? She was with Clark on the Yellowstone river.
Sacagawea also helped Lewis and Clark to find her Shoshone people. She taught valuable skills for food foraging, helped navigate difficult terrains and, on one occasion, saved equipment, food and their journals when her husband accidentally lost control of his canoe.
But Sacagawea wasn’t alone. There was a second Indian who likely served a larger role. She literally saved the Corps of Discovery from being murdered.
Her name was Watkuweis.
She was an elderly Nez Perce woman who was present when the starving Lewis and Clark expedition stumbled down the backside of the Bitteroot mountains into the hands of her tribe. The entire expedition was nearly dead. Sick. Hungry. Weak. Desperate. The Nez Perce had never seen white men before and the younger braves wanted to kill them all. After all, the Corps were traveling with the latest in weaponry, plus caches of bullets, boxes of trading goods and other riches. A hostile takeover of the Corps’ goods would make the Nez Perce rich beyond measure.
But that’s when Watkuweis spoke up and stopped her own warriors from killing the Lewis and Clark party. Her words were simple: “Do them no harm.” Why would Watkuweis care so much for a starving group of white explorers? It’s because she knew their generosity and compassion well. Like Sacagawea, she had also been captured as a youth, abused and traded among Indian tribes in Canada.
Eventually Watkuweis was purchased by a kind white fur trader who took her far away to the Great Lakes region. She was raised in a white community, learning white customs, manners and their Christianity. A white (Christian) family eventually helped her escape slavery and return to her Nez Perce home in the Rockies. Consequently, all her life, Watkuweis held a deep affection and gratitude for white people.
For Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, this old Indian woman was their saving angel.
Because of Watkuweis’ order to not harm Lewis and Clark, the Nez Perce formed a deep friendship with the white explorers.
They taught the Corps of Discovery new skills, introduced new foods (including salmon), cared for their horses, and showed them how to get to the Pacific ocean.
SACAGAWEA, a teenage Shoshone mom and Indian slave.
WATKUWEIS, a grateful, old Nez Perce woman.
But there’s a final twist worth noting.
Those Nez Perce Indians, because of their positive experience with Lewis and Clark, were introduced to a “little black book” (Bible) that could show them the way to God. In 1831, four Indian chiefs (two Nez Perce, two Blackfoot) traveled to St. Louis to visit an aging William Clark about this “book.” That interaction would inspire a missionary movement to the Great Northwest, carving what we now know as the Oregon Trail.
God works in surprising ways. In this particular legendary tale through two women–one young and one old–who kept the Lewis and Clark expedition alive, moving forward and successful in their search for a Northwest passage.
In 1776 Thomas Paine was a “rock star” among American patriots.
His writings inspired a loosely united thirteen colonies to revolt against the great British Empire.
But Paine lived down to his name. He’d die a “penniless drunk in Manhattan,” scorned by most of the Founding Fathers. Only six people attended his funeral.
Thomas Paine was always a radical revolutionary.
He loved to challenge the status quo politically. It’s why his writings, like the best-selling Common Sense (1776) and The American Crisis (1776-1783), were the rage among American patriots. Few people were more famous than Thomas Paine during the Revolutionary War.
But Paine also had a way of wearing out his welcome. He lived in America only thirteen years, (arriving in 1774) before returning to his native England. In 1791, when his writings on the Rights of Man created controversy and eventually charges of sedition in Britain, Paine fled to France.
That’s where his notoriety caught the attention of French Revolutionaries. Paine was immediately granted honorary citizenship and elected to the National Assembly. But his French honeymoon also proved short. He “agitated” the wrong people, got arrested and sentenced to death. If it hadn’t been for French ambassador and future president James Monroe, who negotiated Paine’s release, his story would’ve end with the guillotine.
But Paine’s real agitation was just beginning. While in prison he began writing his skeptic’s view of religion titled The Age of Reason (published in three parts between 1794 and 1805). Thomas Paine was a religious skeptic, but no atheist. He still believed “in one God” and the “equality of man.” Nevertheless, Paine rejected every human religious creed, including Jewish, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.
“My own mind is my church,” Paine wrote. It turned out to be a church few attended.
Back in America, now religiously shaped by the Second Great Awakening, Paine’s radical irreverence, secular propensities and open embrace of Deism sparked controversy and opposition.
His friend Ben Franklin begged Paine not to publish The Age of Reason and warned: “I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person; whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a good deal of regret and repentance.”
But the insolent Paine didn’t listen to Franklin’s counsel. Instead, he became even more antagonistic. In 1796 he maliciously attempted to impugn the character and competence of George Washington in a public letter. At the time no one was more popular in America than George Washington. In fact, many Americans desired to make Washington “king.” Consequently, the public response was swift.
Thomas Paine was criticized, censured, condemned…and cancelled…by the people.
Nearly every Founding Father called him out, from John Adams to John Jay. The Age of Reason was “blasphemous” (Charles Carroll), “absurd and insidious” (Benjamin Rush), “puny” (Patrick Henry) and “ignorant” (John Witherspoon). Founder Elias Boudinet was so incensed he penned his own refutation titled The Age of Revelation (1801).
Samuel Adams wrote Paine: “When I heard you had turned your mind to a defense of infidelity, I felt myself much astounded and more grieved, that you had attempted a measure so injurious to the feelings and so repugnant to the true interest of so great a part of the citizens of the United States…Do you think that your pen, or the pen of any other man, can unchristianize the mass of our citizens, or have you hopes of converting a few of them to assist you in so bad a cause?”
From that point forward, the irreverent, secularist Thomas Paine lived as a social outcast. He spent his final years largely in seclusion, nursing a flask of booze. And while his early works reflected “common sense,” Paine’s commitment to French enlightenment “wokeness” and secularism—something most people embrace today as normal and mainstream—was completely out of step in early 19th century America.
Paine’s secularism cost him everything. He literally reaped his surname: pain.
Thomas Paine died June 8, 1809.
But not a single cemetery in America would accept his corpse. He was eventually buried, without ceremony by a few friends, on his farm outside Rochelle, NY. Ten years later his remains were exhumed by a journalist named William Cobbett and shipped back to his native England. Cobbett wanted to give Paine a heroic reburial, but it never happened. Paine’s bones ended up in his closet and eventually disappeared.
Shortly thereafter a rhyme to his Paine’s memory emerged:
“Poor Tom Paine! There he lies:
Nobody laughs and nobody cries
Where he has gone or how he fares,
Nobody knows and nobody cares.”
The “pain” of Thomas Paine is how far this patriotic “rock star” fell to earth. He was a man out of step with his culture. His ideas and lifestyle outside the cultural and religious norms of his day. It’s a hard story to understand in contemporary secular America (where a Thomas Paine easily fits), but in the era of a Second Great (Christian) Awakening, his deism and irreligiosity found no favor. Like many today he chose a life that became a pursuit of pleasure. But that pursuit, as the biblical Solomon once described, can be chasing the wind, resulting in a life framed by divisiveness, narcissism, emptiness, addiction and loneliness.
Thomas Paine could’ve had much more. He could’ve been so much more.
But ultimately the man who penned Common Sense proved in the end to have none himself.
Who was Saint Patrick?” Why do we celebrate his name today? His legacy is much more than festive green parties and shamrocks.
Patrick was born around 385 BC in Britain during a tumultuous time.
At the time, Britain was under Roman rule and his family lived in constant fear. Because the great Roman army was needed back home in Italy, Patrick’s homeland was abandoned and vulnerable to invading tribes.
One of more feared and vicious tribes were the Irish Druids. These pagans were barbaric, malevolent and ruthless. They worshipped the dead, practiced dark magic and were known to collect human heads.
Around 405 AD, the adolescent Patrick’s farm was invaded by the Druids.
They pillaged the area, raped women, burned homes and fields and captured slaves. Patrick found himself in chains and headed to Ireland. For the next six years, the enslaved Patrick tended sheep. He also prayed daily for peace, strength, protection…and freedom. Sometime during this captivity, Patrick converted to Christianity.
One night Patrick had a vision about a ship.
In a courageous act of faith, he escaped his slave master and traveled two hundred miles to a port…and found a ship waiting. It was a miracle. Patrick returned to Britain, reunited with family, and tried to regain normalcy. But now a new vision emerged in his heart. A dream not to shepherd animals but to pastor people. Around age 40, God called on Patrick again: “Please, holy boy, come and walk among us again.”
God put Ireland back into Patrick’s heart and he followed a Divine dream for his life.
Patrick returned as a free man to pastor, teach and evangelize. He targeted, of all people, the pagan Druids he once feared and despised. To aid his pastoral teachings about the Christian Triune nature of God, Patrick employed a three-leaf clover (the shamrock). Just like the shamrock is “three in one” so is God, Patrick taught fearlessly. He endured assault and assassination. He face deep discouragement, poverty and hardship. But Patrick never quit. He penned: “I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for His name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die.”
Patrick’s ministry is reportedly filled with miracles…and success.
Those who chronicled his work said Patrick healed the sick, scattered enemies, exorcised demons and even raised the dead. His walking stick reportedly grew into a living tree. Legend held that Patrick banished all the Irish snakes too! In his 30-year work in Ireland, Patrick baptized over 120,000 people and founded over 300 churches.
The irony? Patrick had great weaknesses. He was uneducated and struggled with his sinful self. Patrick stammered and stuttered. And he suffered from feelings of deep inferiority and terrible insecurity. But still Patrick worked, served, preached, taught and loved. He even advocated for the abolition of human slavery (unheard of in his time).
One biographer wrote: “He found Ireland all heathen and left it all Christian.” It’s true. When Patrick died on March 17, 461 the land that first imprisoned him in fear was now a citadel of faith.
Today, “St. Paddy’s Day” is reduced to green beer, shamrocks and Irish greetings but we best not forget the man (and his mission) who carved this date…even if some of the tales are more myth than truth.
Oh, and one more thing. Patrick never fully exorcised Ireland of the Druids. In fact, many of their death celebrations, magic rituals and pagan traditions were tattooed to the Irish. And, centuries later, when they migrated to America they brought not just “St. Patrick’s Day” but a holiday the Puritans, Catholics and other Protestants detested and originally outlawed: Halloween.
PATRICK. FORMER SLAVE. MISSIONARY TO IRELAND. SAINT.
And now you know the rest of HIStory.
Betsy Ross. Martha Washington. Dolly Madison.
These were all great women of the American Revolution.
But have you heard of Mary Ludwig Hays?
She might be the bravest, strongest and most patriotic woman of them all.
During the Revolution women were cut from a different cloth.
Many women refused to stay home, hide or run from the British armies. Rather, they joined their husbands as “camp followers” and moved with their spouses throughout the war. They served as cooks, laundresses, nurses, counselors, and pastors . Women loaded guns, sharpened swords and worked artillery. They carried water to quench thirst and cool hot cannon barrels. They dug graves.
Mary Ludwig Hays was one of those women.
Born October 13, 1754 in Trenton, New Jersey, she grew up in a modest butcher’s home. Because Mary was a poor girl, it’s possible she never learned to read or write. In 1777, she married a Pennsylvanian barber named William Hays, but their honeymoon was short. Her new husband joined George Washington’s army and moved to Valley Forge.
That’s where Mary met Martha…Martha Washington.
George’s wife was also a “camp follower.” Martha mentored younger women like Mary in matters of duty, work ethic and faith. They would need all three qualities in the brutal winter of 1777-1778. Many soldiers never made it through Valley Forge. Poorly equipped, many soldiers died from frostbite, hunger and sickness. It was strong women like Mary and Martha that kept the troops’ spirits up, attended to their needs and prayed for their souls.
The most menial, yet critical, responsibility for women was transporting water to thirsty troops (in a pitcher).
The ladies also transported water to cool cannon barrels heated by their firing. It’s how Mary picked up a new nickname. Whenever a soldier yelled “Molly Pitcher” that was Mary’s cue to bring water.
One hot day in June 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth, Mary “Molly Pitcher” Hays found glory.
According to one historian, fifty soldiers died of thirst alone on that day. Mary carried bucket after bucket of water to the front lines, bravely dodging bullets and cannon fire. Mary’s husband William was working the cannons until heat exhaustion got the best of him. When he collapsed in the searing sun, Mary was there to attend to him…and take his place on the firing line. She fearlessly grabbed the ramrod and started loading cannonballs while bullets whizzed around her.
At one point a British cannonball literally passed between Mary’s legs, tearing off part of her skirt. But she never flinched. She relentlessly loaded cannonballs, encouraging the troops and standing her ground. The inspired soldiers began to call her “Major Molly.”
Her bravery and bravado also caught the attention of her commander George Washington (whom she revered). All day long Washington watched Mary work those cannons and keep the troops motivated. It impressed George enough to issue an official battlefield commemoration and make Mary a non-commissioned officer–a notoriety few women in that day received. After the War, poets would recount her bravery in rhyme and verse. There was even a song sung to her honor:
“Moll Pitcher she stood by her gun,
and rammed the charges home, sir,
And thus on Monmouth’s bloody field,
a sergeant did become sir.”
From that day forward Mary had two new nicknames: Molly Pitcher and Sergeant Molly.
After the war, Mary and William returned to Carlisle, PA to raise their son. But that bliss also didn’t last. Mary’s life turned sour when her husband unexpectedly died in 1786. For the next 46 years, Mary faced poverty, hardship and pain. She remarried a man named John McCauley in 1793 but the marriage was bad. Her new husband was violent and abusive. After he persuaded Mary to sell her deceased husband’s land, he ran off with the money. This was her inheritance and it pushed Mary into poverty. Nevertheless, she didn’t let that theft steal her joy.
For the rest of her life, Mary lived lean as a general servant and civil volunteer.
Mary cheerfully cooked, cleaned, washed and painted. She cared for soldiers, sick people and wayward children. She faithfully attended the Lutheran church. In Carlisle, PA Mary was a legend, popular and respected. To her friends she was known as “Sergeant Molly,” the hero of Monmouth with “a kind word for everyone.” The U.S. government even recognized her Revolutionary War service with a modest pension.
Mary died in 1832. But her namesake “Molly” did not.
Her grave marker tagged her as “Molly McCauley.” But everyone else, including many early historians, dubbed her “Molly Pitcher.” To this day, a statue of “Molly Pitcher” working a cannon adorns her Carlisle cemetery. Her glorious story has now grown dusty. Few school children learn her tale or know her name. But where ever patriot men march to war, the Molly Pitchers still follow.
MARY “MOLLY PITCHER” HAYS. Revolutionary Hero. Beloved American Volunteer.
And now you know the rest of HERstory.
- “A Short History of Molly Pitcher: The Heroine of the Battle of Monmouth” (Carlisle, PA: The Cornman Printing Company, 1905).
- Humphrey, Grace. Women in American History (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers, 1919.
- Egle, William Henry. Some Pennsylvania Women During the War of the Revolution. (Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Company, 1898):
George Washington warned us in his Farewell Address of 1796. But we didn’t listen.
We’re still deaf to his final words.
George warned us of how political partisanship seeks to “acquire influence” and “misrepresent the opinions.”
Washington eloquently admonished that the “fatal tendency” of any democracy is replacing the national will with “the will of a party.”
It’s why George Washington refused to serve more than two terms as U.S. President (and would likely support term limits today). It’s why he resisted his countrymen’s wish to make him a “king” (or a professional politician). George was a man of impeccable integrity, respected wisdom and formidable strength–much of it due to his deep Christian faith.
Washington knew that “in the course of time and things” that men and women could “become potent engines” for America’s destruction.
Washington called these types “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled” persons who “subvert the Power of the People.” He warned that political factions quickly devolve into jealousies, banality, dissension and “frightful despotism.”
Ultimately, Washington concluded, “party passions” lead to bribery, betrayal and treason, unlocking “the doors to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the Government.” Sound familiar? Most Americans would be surprised to learn how many politicians have their pockets lined by outside influence.
George Washington died December 14, 1799. The black pastor and friend Richard Allen (founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) delivered Washington’s eulogy. He summarized his thoughts on George through four admonitions in the Farewell Address:
- LOVE YOUR COUNTRY
- OBEY ITS LAWS
- SEEK ITS PEACE
- KEEP YOURSELF FROM ATTACHMENT TO ANY FOREIGN NATION
George Washington was right in 1796 about political parties.
He’s still right today. Frankly, I think the “Father of our Country” would weep at what is presently happening in the city (and the U.S. state) that bears his name…not to mention the nation he courageously helped to free and found.
Washington D.C. has become a terrible “swamp.” It’s infested with venomous snakes, dangerous crocs and obnoxious insects. It’s became a bubble city that’s detached and insulated from most Americans. The word “politics?” Poly means “many” and “ticks” are blood-sucking objects. Pretty much sums up D.C.
Whether you lean left or right, we should all heed the counsel of Franklin D. Roosevelt (10/28/1940) to “guard against the forces of anti-Christian aggression, which may attack us from without, and the forces of ignorance and fear which may corrupt us from within.”
America’s national and social media are no longer watchdogs, but lap dogs, primarily for a preferred political party.
It’s why ignorance and fear abounds. Who do you think benefits from keeping Americans in a constant state of confusion and panic? There is more censorship and misinformation today than ever in America’s history…and its coming from sources we used to trust.
Americans should also note any voice that mocks or misrepresents our true national story (and many do that today).
Lyman Beecher once wrote: “While most nations trace their origin to barbarians, the foundations of our nation were laid by civilized men, by Christians …Imperfect as they were, the world before had not seen their like, nor will it soon, we fear, behold their like again…to ridicule them is national suicide.”
Maybe it’s time to ask who will be our next George Washington? Who will be the Abraham Lincoln for this desperate hour? Who will be our Benjamin Franklin to lead us with wisdom into the future? Who will be the courageous patriot willing to keep America free in our generation?
I hear the growl of the wolves outside the door.
And I can no longer stay silent.
The late summer of 1814 was one of America’s darkest moments.
The British-American War of 1812 raged into its third year.
On July 25 the Battle of Lundy’s Lane near Niagara Falls proved a bloodbath victory for the British. On August 12 the USS Somers and Ontario warships were captured. Two weeks later Washington D.C was torched, including America’s Capitol, the White House and several federal buildings.
The war-weary Americans were hardly finished. And their Faith remained strong.
At the genesis of the War of 1812, President James Madison issued a National Day of Prayer to “acknowledge transgressions” and “seek [God’s] merciful forgiveness.” A year later, on July 23, 1813, Madison issued a second prayer decree. The entire United States, still less than a quarter century old, stopped to pray.
The Revolutionary Generation relied upon Divine Providence.
In early September of 1814 the British set their sights on Baltimore.
To house and feed their troops the Red Coat armies often occupied American homes, seeking to intercept American intelligence. On one such occasion, British operatives met Dr. William Beanes. Initially the elderly physician cooperated with the British. He obviously said too much, as the British soon suspected the good doctor of spying. Beanes was arrested and jailed on the British H.M.S. Tonant. He was likely headed for a noose.
But Dr. Beanes had friends in high places.
A group of Maryland friends, including a certain 33-year-old ambitious lawyer named Francis Scott Key, came to his defense. Key, using his connections to Madison, sought a prisoner exchange for Beanes. On a predetermined day, he and a military exchange agent named Col. John Skinner met the British on the Tonant. And while the negotiations were successful, a new problem emerged. The British planned to attack Baltimore that night. And now the Red Coats felt Key and Skinner could foil that plan. Consequently, the young lawyer, along with Col. Skinner and old Doc Beanes, were sequestered to a British ship–ironically called the H.M.S. Surprise–anchored outside Baltimore.
For the next 25 hours the British military bombarded Fort McHenry.
The detained Americans watched helplessly from the ship’s bow.
They witnessed the full power of the British navy, as nearly two thousand rockets, mortar shells and cannon balls rained down on their beloved Baltimore. When night fell, the locals snuffed every flame, to create utter darkness. Only in the black of night did the British struggled to aim their guns.
If Fort McHenry and Baltimore were to survive, it would take a miracle.
As always, the Americans turned to prayer for protection. And this part of the story is often missed…because God answered those prayers with a miracle.
During the night a violent early fall thunderstorm rumbled through Maryland. The lightning was particularly fierce, initially favoring the blind British firing into the dark. However, the torrential rain soon helped the Americans even more. Cannonballs are designed to “skip” and travel a distance (creating as much damage as possible). However, the pounding rain softened the Maryland ground, causing these heavy iron balls to sink, harmlessly, in the mud upon impact. Unless there was a direct hit, little damage was done.
Between the British bombardment and the terrible thunderstorm, it was one long night for the citizens of Baltimore.
It was even longer for Key, Doc Beans and Col. Skinner. Only when the faint light of dawn broke into the eastern sky did the tired Americans finally see the truth.
They leaned against the railings of the Surprise, and searched the horizon for signs Fort McHenry and Baltimore survived the terrible bombing. Was the fort and Baltimore still standing? Would a British flag fly over the great fort? Would Baltimore be captured and occupied?
It was September 14, 1814.
That’s when Francis Scott Key, a devout Christian, pulled out his journal and began to write a poem.
O say, can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there
Key penned four stanzas that day, and buried in the final verse was a Divinely Providential line that became America’s national motto:
O thus be it ever when free men shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation;
Blest with victory and peace, may the Heaven-rescued land,
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just;
And this be our motto ‘In God is our Trust!’
And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
Over the land of the free and the home of the brave!
In God We Trust. It was the only path to freedom for a young American nation. The Americans battled the greatest army in the world and faced terrible odds. They endured horrific losses and needed an Anchor for the dark night of the soul. The patriots needed God’s Provision and Protection.
Key would later write: “Nothing but Christianity will give you the victory. Until a man believes in his heart that Jesus Christ is his Lord and Master… his course through life will be neither safe nor pleasant. My only regret is that I was so long blinded by my pleasures, my vices and pursuits, and the examples of others that I was kept from seeing, admiring, and adoring the marvelous light of the gospel.”
As for Key’s poem about the bombardment of Fort McHenry, it was eventually set to music. The tune, ironically, was by a British composer named John Stafford Smith. The Navy first played the song in 1889. Twenty-seven years later Woodrow Wilson officially used Key’s song as president. But it was baseball’s 1918 World Series that gave the song popular appeal.
On March 3, 1931, Congress made the song our national anthem.
Meanwhile, Key’s use of the phrase “In God We Trust” first found traction during the Civil War by Union soldiers. That’s when a two-cent coin carried first carried the motto. Nearly a century later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation making “In God We Trust” our national motto and printed on all U.S. currency.
And to think both the National Anthem and motto came from the same story and the same source. It was born from a miracle thunderstorm in a dark night of bombing. And it’s also the only national anthem that ends in a question mark.
Oh say can you see?
…In God is our trust.
He was among America’s first black preachers.
A fiery Methodist who converted thousands—blacks, Indians, whites—to Christianity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
His life story–of only 35 years–has inspired millions.
John Marrant was born a free black June 15, 1755 in New York City.
When his father died, at four, his mother moved the family to Florida, then to Georgia, and finally to South Carolina. John learned to read and write and play the French horn. His musical talent landed several gigs.
At age 13, John joined a friend at a revival meeting featuring the legendary Great Awakening evangelist George Whitefield. As Whitefield preached, Marrant experienced a dramatic conversion to Christ. In the heat of spiritual fire, he collapsed to the floor, paralyzed and mute. It was no momentary experience. John couldn’t move nor talk. Friends had to carry him home. His family was shocked. Doctors tried to administer medication, but he refused.
In the days and weeks that followed, only one thing eased John’s condition: studying the Bible.
Although he eventually regained movement and could talk, his family still believed John went insane. All he wanted to do was read and study the Bible. When the fight with his family proved too much, Marrant left home to wander in the woods, alone, relying only upon God’s protection and provision.
One day a lone Cherokee found John, and they covenanted to work together. Hunting. Fishing. Trading furs. When the Indian took him to his tribal fort, John was viewed as a threat to the Cherokees and sentenced to death. Marrant began to pray to Jesus. His bold and incessant prayers not only converted his executioner, they convinced the chief to dismiss his death sentence. John lived with the tribe for the next two years, converting dozens of Cherokees to Christianity.
Marrant had no special credentials. Just a love for God and His people.
Eventually, John returned to his family (who didn’t recognize him initially) and found work on local plantations. He used the opportunity to evangelize and convert black slaves with whom he labored. During the Revolutionary War, the British captured Marrant and discovered his musical skills. They commissioned him as a musician in their Royal Navy then sent him to fight several British battles.
After the war, John moved to London to sell clothing. That’s when he reconnected with George Whitefield, the fiery English evangelist who radically converted him as a young teen.
Whitefield encouraged John to join the Methodist clergy and on May 15, 1785, he was ordained.
His first church was in Nova Scotia, ministering to blacks, Indians and interested whites. John’s passionate biblical messages drew crowds…and criticism. Methodist ministers were increasingly jealous that their white parishioners preferred Marrant’s black services.
Eventually John moved to Boston and found a new cause: abolishing slavery. In 1785, he published his autobiography: A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black. In his book, Marrant recounted his radical conversion, life with the Cherokees and the “wonderful dealings” and experiences he enjoyed. The book proved popular and sold well (17 editions), inspiring black readers for decades.
Three years later, John married. There’s some evidence he and Elizabeth had children, but it’s unverified. The rest of John’s life he preached and pastored, returning to London, where he died on April 15, 1791. Marrant was only 35 years old.
If it wasn’t for his book, John’s name and legacy as America’s first black preacher might be forever lost to time.
John Marrant. Free Black. Methodist Evangelist. Author. Abolitionist. Musician.
And now you know the rest of HIStory.
- “John Marrant” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Marrant
- Marrant, John. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black (1785). Available as a Google book download.
Some people make things happen.
Some people watch things happen.
And some people wonder what happened.
And then there are people like Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827-1901). He’s a cut above. A leader’s leader. A highly-accomplished man.
One of black history’s dusty and oft-forgotten heroes.
Rhodes was a freeborn black in North Carolina. His family had been free for half a century. Hiram’s father pastored a Baptist church and his family tree included lawyers, politicians, educators and abolitionists. His cousin was one of John Brown’s raiders killed in the tragic 1859 Harper’s Ferry incident.
Hiram’s first job was cutting hair, but he eventually pursued clergy training.
In 1845 he was ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Revels served in churches from Ohio to Kansas. He was once jailed for “preaching the gospel to Negroes.” His preaching was so powerful that slave owners feared he’d incite runaways. He preached often in Missouri even though it was illegal for free blacks to live there.
Eventually Revels headed east for more religious education and to serve as a preacher for an A.M.E. church and black school principal in Baltimore, MD. During the Civil War, Revels recruited two regiments of black soldiers and served as a chaplain, most notably at the Battle of Vicksburg. After the war, he returned west to start a freedmen’s school in St. Louis (1863-1864) and preach for a church in Leavenworth, KS (1865).
In 1866, Hiram was called to pastor a church in post-Civil War Mississippi.
He was 39 years old and ready to put down roots with his wife and five daughters. His new pastoral platform allowed him to establish multiple Reconstruction schools for black children, help in Methodist district leadership and serve in the Mississippi State Senate (1869).
One early biographer noted that to this point, Revels “had never voted [in Mississippi], had never attended a political meeting, and of course, had never made a political speech.” But Hiram was highly educated, a powerful communicator and unifying spirit. He was also a black Republican. His opening prayer for the 1870 Mississippi state legislature was “impressive and eloquent.”
The prayer also made Hiram R. Revels a rising political star for Republican Reconstruction in the South.
One of the first tasks for Mississippi legislators, with the state rejoining the Union, was to elect new U.S. senators. Prior to the 17th Amendment in 1913, national senators were appointed posts. And Magnolia state politicians now wanted Hiram. But there was a new problem. In Washington, D.C., Democrats opposed his appointment because he was black and, according to the Dred Scott decision of 1857, blacks weren’t citizens. Even though the 14th Amendment reversed (1868) reversed this decision, U.S. Senate rules required nine years of citizenship prior to appointment.
However, supporters argued Revels was a free black at birth and had long voted (as a citizen of Ohio). Nevertheless, the most persuasive argument was the Civil War, as well as the 13th and 14th Amendments had reversed the Dred Scott decision. It was null and void…and never existed. The Republican Charles Sumner (R-MA) later concluded:
All men are created equal, says the great Declaration, and now a great act attests this verity. Today we make the Declaration a reality. …The Declaration was only half established by Independence. The greatest duty remained behind. In assuring the equal rights of all we complete the work.
On February 25, 1870, Hiram R. Revels–with a strict party line vote of 48-8–was affirmed as the first black person seated as United States Senator.
Revels went right to work. He promoted racial equality and the capability of black leaders at the national level. He served on Education and Labor committees, often battling “Radical Republicans” who wanted to punish ex-Confederate, secessionist rebels. The North Carolina raised and Mississippian Hiram argued for more moderate approaches. He proposed amnesty and restoration of citizenship. Revels also argued against Democrat calls for segregated schools. He even nominated exceptional black men to the U.S. military academy.
But his political career was short-lived. His initial appointment was only for a year and, despite several offers to remain in D.C. on Grant’s work teams, Revels moved on.
Hiram served as president and philosophy professor for what’s now Alcorn State University (Lorman, MI), until his 1882 retirement.
But Revels still had fire in his belly too.
In 1875, Revels loudly protested “corrupt and dishonest” Republican “carpet baggers” working the GOP vote in Mississippi. He knew this wasn’t what the Republicans stood for. His letter of protest to President U.S. Grant found traction and wide circulation. It seeded the beginning of the end of Reconstruction in 1877.
Even in retirement, Revels continued to pastor churches, teach theology, write and edit for journals and newspapers. He died serving at a church conference on January 16, 1901, and was buried in Holly Springs, MS.
Revels greatest legacy is becoming the first U.S. black senator. But there’s one more twist to this incredible man’s story. Remember that Hiram was elected to fill a previously vacated one-year Senate term. Whose term did he finish out? None other than Jefferson Davis, the Mississippi senator who vacated his seat to lead as President of the new southern Confederacy in 1861.
Hiram R. Revels. Methodist Preacher. Reconstruction Politician. College President and Educator.
And now you know the rest of HIStory.
- “Hiram Rhodes Revels” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiram_Rhodes_Revels
- Lynch, John R. The Facts of Reconstruction (New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1913): 38-47. Available for download at Google books.
- Nielsen, E. (2008, March 26). Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827-1901). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/revels-hiram-rhodes-1827-1901/
“I was just trying to give my people a MYTH to live by” (Alex Haley, author of “Roots”).
On February 23, 1993—29 years ago today–an investigative journalist broke a story that Haley’s best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning Roots: The Saga of An American Family was a “hoax.” Haley, this journalist claimed, had “invented 200 years of family history.”
Alex had no reply. He had, after all, died a year earlier.
And while few, at the time, liked this journalist’s verdict (or timing), the evidence was indisputable.
To this day no one questions the facts. Haley, by his admission, plagiarized a 1967 work (eventually settling out of court with the author for $650,000). In 1998 the esteemed black historian and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. confessed: “Roots is a work of the imagination rather than strict historical scholarship.”
I was 13 years old when the “Roots” miniseries was televised.
With my family and 130 million other Americans, I watched every night for a week as prominent actors and actresses portrayed the lineage of Haley’s family. I learned about Kunta Kinte and Chicken George. There was even a sequel. Alex’s story was believable. It played like a “true story” biography. I was moved, saddened, angry, and interested in learning more about the black slave story.
But Haley proved to be no historian. Nor was he a trained journalist.
Alex converted to journalism in the Coast Guard. He was a natural, gifted writer. He later wrote for Playboy and was a senior editor for Reader’s Digest, but that’s where his writing credentials end. Perhaps that’s why his epic story ultimately became a novel work of historical “faction.” After the book’s 1976 release, to raving reviews and multi-million sales, the facts no longer mattered. Haley was honored, celebrated, rich and famous. He died basically unscathed by his fabricated work.
Consequently, the 1993 media panned, ignored, or excused this stunning revelation of a “hoax.”
The bigger story was Rodney King and how four L.A. police officers were acquitted (leading to riots that killed 63, injured 2,383 and caused over a billion dollars in property damage). That was the racial story of 1992 and 1993.
Let’s be honest, history education is a mess…and many Americans are ignorant of our own past.
The Chicago Tribune’s headline reaction to the Haley fabrications was revealing: “Facts Can Be Doubted, But Not [Haley’s] Truths.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if a prolific author got the facts wrong if the story is true. It’s hard to imagine Walter Cronkite or Edwin R. Murrow making that statement. But, since the 1970s, journalism had evolved, shifting from reporting the facts to spinning a story. The facts are secondary if the story is believable.
After the hard investigative journalism that produced Watergate, America was hungry for “feel good” news. Good Morning America human interest stories sold (and told) better than 60 Minutes. In the early 1980s network news got an anchor face lift. Tom Brokaw. Dan Rather. Peter Jennings. Throw in CNN cable news and, suddenly, a ratings war broke out. By the 1990s, it was all about being first to the air, even if the facts weren’t always clear.
The year 1993 was a notable year for fabricated stories.
After all, that’s the same year Michael Crichton published Jurassic Park, a tale about lab-designed dinosaurs that included a completely fictitious new species known as a “velociraptor.” Before Crichton’s science fiction novel, this line of dinosaurs did not exist in the fossil record. But it didn’t take long to start finding “raptor” dinosaurs in those same rocks after publication. Crichton’s story spun speculative dinosaur science into a new dinosaur species…then revised history (and the fossil record) to spin a new dino narrative.
And that’s the problem. History is messy because the facts don’t always fit. But facts are true by nature. Essentially, if the facts are wrong, they aren’t facts. And making up facts doesn’t equate to a truth. Truth emerges through conclusions within a body of known (true) facts. Similarly, falsehood (a lie) is the sum total of a body of errors. You can’t have truth with false facts.
In reality, Alex Haley’s fabricated family history produced unintended consequences for America’s racial divide.
It’s doubtful that Haley fully imagined these results, but here we are living them in 2022. “Roots” was pitched as a historical biography of one black American family, but ultimately it represented black America period. As Haley suggested, a new, believable “myth” was introduced. It’s a myth that even white people can swallow.
Haley’s epic book and movie “rooted” our current national racial conversations for decades. Alex planted the seed for Rodney King and O.J. Simpson (who starred in “Roots”). He nurtured “black rage” and anti-white attitudes now common in the black community. Haley set the stage for Michael “Hands Up” Brown and George “I Can’t Breathe” Floyd. Essentially, the low-hanging fruit of “Roots” is the Black Lives Matter movement.
After all, the historical nuances of black history (since 1975) are easily traced through the stories in Haley’s book. From the angry, captive Kunta Kinte to the violated, enslaved Kizzy to the flamboyant, caged Chicken George, we see their faces. We witness these caricatures in contemporary black reality television shows, films and rap/hip hop music. It’s heard in the heated rhetoric of black politicians, pro athletes and cable news commentators. We witness them in the Black suburbs, sports and schools.
During February 2022, the Smithsonian Channel aired a documentary series on “A Thousand Years of Slavery.” It’s another beautifully filmed docu-series that’s superficially salted with “myth-information” for how rich White Europeans are uniquely to blame (and shame) for slavery. Every episode spun a story that propagated a “black versus white” historical racist narrative. In one episode a conflicted and angry black actor confronted the white relative who’s distant relative enslaved his distant black great, great, great grandfather. The white man professed sadness in the matter, but felt no shame. How could he be held responsible for something his relative did over 200 years ago? Naturally that didn’t appease this black actor.
But is this racial narrative accurate? Was racism the reason Blacks were enslaved by White Europeans?
First, slavery has been around since the dawn of time. Over 40 million people are currently enslaved globally, including Africa, India and the Philippines. One of the earliest accounts of slavery is located in the Bible. It’s the story of Moses, when Black Egyptians enslaved Israelites. Nearly every nation, at one time, has employed slavery. So why does Black history focus only upon the last 500 years? To be fair, it shouldn’t.
Second, slavery wasn’t just a white institution in America. Most Americans never owned slaves. Even at its highest point in 1790, three out of four American families did not own a single slave. By 1860, this number dropped dramatically to ten percent. American Indians also had slaves. Cherokees. Seminoles. Chicasaws. Choctaws. Creeks. Many early slaves to America–particularly Virginia–weren’t African nor black…they were European white. In the early 1600s, the British viewed American soil as a “slavery” dumping ground for orphans, vagabonds and criminals. Many slaves were initially indentured servants who accepted bondage for passage to America, and most were freed after their agreed service was complete (“free blacks”).
Third, it’s been mostly rich, White Europeans who’ve eradicated global slavery. In America, it was white Northern Christians (Quakers, Baptists, Congregationalists) who fought for decades to abolish the evil of slavery. Nearly all of the greatest abolitionists were white men and several were women (i.e., John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe). Why does black history overlook, even ignore, these white personalities? To be equitable, it shouldn’t.
Finally, many American (South) slave owners and traders were black. Ever hear of William Ellison or Antoine Dubuclet, Jr.? Two of the South’s richest black plantation owners (and Ellison arguably among the meanest). In 1924, Carter G. Woodson penned a most inconvenient book titled Free Negro Owners of Slaves in the United States in 1830. It documented hundreds of black slave owners. Woodson was himself black and the editor of The Journal of Negro History. It’s inconvenient history that runs counter to the narrative. How come we don’t study black slave owners owning slaves? To be fair, we should. Furthermore, will black heirs of black slave owners also be responsible for reparations? They should be.
Every February Americans are asked to reflect on black history.
As Americans, we should gratefully accept that invitation to learn. There are dozens of early historical documents (pre-1930) that give an accurate picture of slavery, abolition and Reconstruction, including slave narratives, abolitionist writings and influential black biographies. We should know and appreciate the early black influencers like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington.
And yet, for those who study true black History, the popular narrative will continue to prove troubling.
Yes, the story is compelling and interesting, but the historical facts don’t support it. It’s a MYTH. And it’s Alex Haley’s old “myth” that still percolates. Just like he fabricated his historical story (to inspire “his people”), many black historians, authors, professors, musicians, activists, news commentators, and film makers (all of whom are black) now peddle their own narrative of “white shame and blame.” Slavery is evil. White people owned slaves. White people are evil. And yet, when facts run counter to this narrative, these contradictory stories are buried and history is revised.
The real facts no longer seem to matter. Too many Americans see what they want to see, and most are ignorant of the truth. The larger, inconvenient story is dismissed. But that still doesn’t change the facts…or the truth. Facts do matter. Truth is truth. A myth–no matter how appealing–remains a falsehood. It’s why America is so terribly divided down color “fault” lines. We will never experience racial reconciliation as long as we live in separate historical echo chambers with pointing fingers.
We must do better.
There are always more than one side to a story…and the TRUTH is out there. Beware of the sound of one hand clapping.
- “Alex Haley” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Haley
- “Alex Haley’s Hoax” by Philip Nobile, The Village Voice, 2/23/1993.
- “Alex Haley’s Facts Can Be Doubted, But Not His Truths” by Clarence Page, The Chicago Tribune, 3/9/1993: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1993-03-10-9303190620-story.html
- “One Thousand Years of Slavery” (Smithsonian Channel): https://www.smithsonianchannel.com/shows/one-thousand-years-of-slavery
- “Blacks Owning Blacks: the William Ellison Story”: https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/6699
- “Free Negro Owners of Slaves in the United States in 1830” by Carter G. Woodson (Washington D.C., 1924). Available as a Google Book download.
- D’Souza, Dinesh. The End of Racism. (New York: Free Press, 1993): 69-79.
Did you know the Kamala Harris wasn’t the first U.S. Vice President of color? It’s true.
That honor goes to Charles Curtis who served as Herbert Hoover’s Vice President between 1929 and 1933.
Today this decorated politician is virtually unknown to Americans but Curtis’ legacy is rich and inspiring. He proved the perfect political pick. A Republican attorney from Kansas, Curtis represented his state in the House of Representatives (1893-1907) and U.S. Senate (1907-1913, 1915-1929). Prior to his stint as VP, Charles was the Majority Leader of the Senate.
Charles Curtis was widely lauded for his ability to work across the aisle.
That was no easy task with the volatile Democratic Party–which, at the time, was steeped in Jim Crow racism, segregation and lynching (of Blacks and Republicans). Idaho Senator William Borah praised Curtis as “a great reconciler, a walking political encyclopedia and one of the best political poker players in America.”
Curtis became the first colored Vice President in U.S. history.
Along with Hoover, he was elected in a 1929 landslide victory. He was the highest ranking Indian–a member of the Kaw Nation–to serve in D.C. He grew up on a Kansas Indian reservation. Ironically, Curtis worked in Congress two decades before Indians finally won their full citizenship and right to vote (in 1924 Indian Citizenship Act).
But do you know who else spent time on an Indian reservation? Curtis’ boss and 31st U.S. President, Herbert Hoover. As a young boy, Hoover lived with his Indian agent uncle for several months on the Osage Nation reservation in Oklahoma (the only U.S. president to do so). On the reservation, Hoover attended Indian Sunday School and developed a lifelong appreciation for the Indian way of life.
It’s no wonder that as president and vice president, Hoover and Curtis fought for greater Indian rights in America.
Under their administration, funding increased for better reservation schools and hospitals. They helped pass the Leavitt Act to cancel Indian debt. They also encouraged Indian assimilation rather than segregation.
CHARLES CURTIS (1860-1936). The Kaw Indian who went from a Kansas reservation to the U.S. Capitol. Curtis was even featured TWICE on the cover of Time magazine. He remains the most successful and influential Indian politician in U.S. history.
And he’s virtually unknown to Americans today.
- “Charles Curtis” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Curtis
- “Herbert Hoover: Only US President to Have Lived on Indian Reservation” by Alysa Landry, Indian Country Today website, 9/13/2018: https://indiancountrytoday.com/…/herbert-hoover-only-us….