"HISTORY SPEAKS" BLOG

Alexis de Tocqueville: The French Man Who Saw America’s Past, Present and Future

By Rick Chromey | June 23, 2022 |

“[It’s] the most comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the relationship between character and society in America that has ever been written.”

That’s how one historian described Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America; a work considered among the most influential books of the 19th century.

Published in two volumes between 1835 and 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville analyzed the social and political life of early America.

Born in the wake of the French revolution, he was a diplomat, philosopher, historian and aristocrat. Initially he  traveled to America in 1831 to study our prisons, but quickly found something greater underfoot.

Alexis de Tocqueville discovered our Christianity.

He penned: “Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country…”

Alexis de Tocqueville observed how our “notions of Christianity and of liberty” were so deeply intertwined that it was “impossible to…conceive one without the other.”

He noted in his travels how our Puritan forefathers immigrated and established both a “democratic and republican religion.”

He summarized how “religion in America…must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country…[imparting] a taste for freedom.” Alexis confessed his inability to “know whether all Americans [had] a sincere faith” but was “certain” that we fully accepted religion and all other institutions being connected. “This opinion,” he wrote, “is not particular to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.”

Alexis de Tocqueville affirmed this thesis through an anecdote of an August 23, 1831 court case he observed in Chester County, New York. In this case, a witness admitted to the judge his atheism. In Alexis’ home nation of enlightened France, atheism was not uncommon nor was it reason for concern in matters of integrity. And yet this American judge “refused his testimony” because atheism was enough reason to lose the “confidence of the court” in any testimony someone possessed. Alexis also documented a local newspaper’s report for how this judge was surprised to discover “a man living who did not believe in the existence of God…[and] knew of no case in a Christian country, where a witness had been permitted to testify without such belief.”

Alexis de Tocqueville wasn’t alone in his perception of America’s Christian roots.

His traveling partner—Gustave de Beaumont—penned his own memoir known as the Marie ou l’Esclavage aux E’tas-Unis (1835). Beaumont documented over a dozen different sects of Christianity in early America and wrote: “Religion…is not only a moral institution but also a political institution … In the United States, the law is never atheistic … All of the American constitutions proclaim freedom of conscience and the liberty and equality of all the confessions…”

Beaumont noted how the Massachusetts’s Constitution recognized “only Christians.” He cited how Maryland’s Constitution declared “all of the faiths are free” and gave its legislature the power to tax “for the support of the Christian religion.” The Vermont Constitution recognized “only the Christian faiths” and mandated “every congregation of Christians [to] celebrate the Sabbath.” Pennsylvania required a belief in God as part of its citizenry. Beaumont further documented how most states demanded profession of Christianity to serve in public office.

Beaumont summarized: “In general, anyone who adheres to one of the religious sects, whose number is immense in the United States, enjoys all of his social and political rights in peace. But the man who would claim to have neither a church nor religious beliefs would not only be excluded from all civil employment and from all political offices … but … would be an object of moral persecution of all kinds. No one would care to have any social relations with him … No one in the United States believes that a man without religion could be an honest man.”

In 21st century America such religious fervor would be considered prejudicially extreme, even among the Christian faithful. We’d never consider excluding someone from employment or political office if they were not Christian, nor discounting the court testimony of the agnostic or atheist.

But in early America—founded as a Christian nation–we did…and it was a preferred state of living.

Alexis de Tocqueville also opined on how America could lose our democracy and freedom. It would happen, he said, in slow measures as Americans “in a restless search for…petty, vulgar pleasures” eventually numbed to its political “protective powers” who removed “autonomy… from each citizen.”

“It is …difficult to imagine,” de Tocqueville concluded, “how men who have completely given up the habit of self-government could successfully choose those who should do it for them…The vices of those who govern and the ineptitude of those governed would soon bring it to ruin and…revert to its abasement to one single master.”

It’s why Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America should be required reading in America’s history classes. He not only documented, as an outsider, America’s Christian founding and deep religious fabric, but offered a blueprint for how “we the people” could lose our cherished liberty and democracy.

Essentially, it’s how one French man saw America’s past…and future.

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Memorial Day: How Former Slaves Created a National Holiday

By Rick Chromey | June 1, 2022 |

American summers are built around three holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.

Memorial Day and Labor Day are the bookends. The July 4th celebration is the centerpiece. Most Americans view Memorial Day as the “kickoff” for summer…and it is.

But there’s much more to this holiday than we think. Unfortunately, many contemporary histories of Memorial Day only share part of the story. It’s why we need to go back to the beginning.

The curtain for Memorial Day opened on May 1, 1865.

It had been less than a month since America’s bloody Civil War ended. The Southern states laid in ruin. Over 620,000 soldiers–an entire generation of American men–gave their lives on dozens of battlefields, from Vicksburg to Gettysburg.

On a spring day in Charleston, SC a group of former slaves coordinated a memorial event. The location was the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, a country-club-turned-prison for Union soldiers. Behind the grandstand was a mass grave holding hundreds of Union soldier corpses.

Everyone in town knew about the mass grave.

The buried Union soldiers, most of them captured after being wounded, suffered greatly before they passed. They were fed poorly and treated terribly. They also received little to no medical attention to their wounds or the diseases that plagued the prison camp. Their dead bodies were dumped in a mass grave without any identification nor notification of kin. Nobody knew their names nor wanted to know their names. In white Charleston, these dead Union soldiers were treated like trash.

The black men and women of Charleston knew the sacrifice of these Union soldiers.

After all, it was northern Republican abolitionism that fueled the Union army to fight. And it was a slain president Abraham Lincoln, also murdered only weeks earlier, who had issued an Emancipation Proclamation to free them from slavery.

These Charleston ex-slaves wanted to give these Union soldiers a proper funeral and an honorable burial.

First they dug up the mass grave and exhumed 257 Union soldiers.

Then they reburied each body in a separate grave in a new cemetery. At the entrance they posted the words: “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

This act of service would’ve been enough. But then these former slaves did something truly remarkable. They organized an all-day parade event to commemorate their lives.

According to two newspapers of the day, over 10,000 gathered to remember these soldiers.

The crowd included freed slaves, white Republicans,  and visiting missionaries. The parade was held at the race track of the Washington Race Course and Country Club, the very spot that once held this Confederate prison camp.

On May 1, 1868, thousands of former slaves gathered (and danced) in the Confederate city of Charleston to celebrate a new day in the South. A choir of 2800 black children led the procession carrying flower bouquets and singing “John Brown’s Body.” All day long this mostly black crowd sang spirituals, listened to sermons and read Scripture. It was a holiday–a HOLY DAY–sanctified for gratitude, honor and freedom.

Ironically, it wasn’t the first black-led parade n Charleston.

That honor goes to The 55th Massachusetts Colored Regiment who, on February 21, 1865, marched into Charleston to claim it for Union victory…rejoicing and singing. The 55th were likely part of the May 1 celebration too, as they mustered near Charleston until May 7. There’s also evidence the famed 54th Massachusetts regiment attended this event.

In time, similar spontaneous celebrations occurred to remember the sacrifice of the Union army to liberate the slave.

These celebrations primarily happened in northern states, as there was little joy in the southern states at that time.

Nevertheless, the memorials became such a prominent celebration that in 1868, a Union general named John A. Logan proposed an official annual day of recognition (on May 30) that he called “Decoration Day.” It was a day to honor, and decorate, the graves of all soldiers–Union and Confederate–who died in the Civil War. On May 30, 1868, the newly-opened Arlington National Cemetery held it’s own “memorial” event, the first national commemoration on record.

In 1881, President James Garfield issued an executive order for government workers to recognize “Decoration Day” traditions. By 1890 every Northern state now observed Decoration Day as an official holiday, but it wasn’t until World War 1 and 2 that a new holiday began to emerge. “Memorial Day,” as it was called, slowly replaced “Decoration Day” as a time to honor all of America’s war dead, from the Revolutionary War to present time.

In 1968 Memorial Day was christened to occur on the last Monday of May.

Many historians still dispute the origins of Decoration Day because the practice of decorating the graves of slain soldiers was common prior to the Charleston, SC event. However, these earlier remembrances were individual in nature. The Charleston, SC “memorial” was an organized event with a parade and other activities to show gratitude and honor. It was a collective and public event. The May 1, 1865 event, organized by former slaves, was also unique in that it chose to remember the Union army that had liberated them…and did it with Scripture, sermons and spiritual music. It was as much a church revival as a public funeral.

Nevertheless, it was still the first time a group of people gathered to memorialize the dead from any American war.

This is the piece often missing in contemporary re-tellings of this story today. Memorial Day wasn’t just a day that former slaves threw a parade and remembered Civil War dead. These black slaves organized this event as a distinctly religious event to memorialize the dead Union soldiers. Why? Because that was the reason Union soldiers fought to their death. They laid down their lives to liberate the Black slave…and these former slaves were deeply grateful for that sacrifice.

It’s why we can’t forget telling our true history…and the whole story.

Some historians think this Charleston event was intentionally lost to time because the white Charlestonians didn’t want the story told. It didn’t fit the narrative of their culture. They didn’t want Union soldiers being honored. There was no love lost between the South and the North–before or after the War. It took South Carolina and the white citizens of Charleston decades to recover. And the fact this event was organized by former slaves only poured salt in the wound. It was reason enough to bury the story along with these Union soldiers.

And they did just that. Eventually even the horse track and country club that once housed this Union solder prison was torn down. And these Union soldiers graves were exhumed a second time and moved to Beaufort National Cemetery. Today, the area that once housed a Union soldier prison camp is a beautiful city park, with nothing but a single sign to remind park visitors.

It’s why this story is so dusty and forgotten.

But the truth remains. And so did newspaper evidence of this early event.

It’s why Memorial Day isn’t just a day to barbecue brats and burgers, and officially kick off the summer. It’s a day to reflect on the sacrifices, remember the soldier dead and restore history. Again, it wasn’t until 1968–over 100 years after this Charleston day–that Memorial Day was officially observed as a national U.S. holiday.

But there’s one more piece of history that Americans overlook. In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” to encourage all U.S. citizens, at 3:00 p.m. every Memorial Day, to stop and pray as a “symbolic act of unity…to honor the men and women of the United States who died in the pursuit of freedom and peace.”

Memorial Day was, is and shall forever be, according to this Congressional act, “a day of prayer for permanent peace.”

All gave some…but some gave all.

And thanks to former slaves America has a “holy day” to remember her war dead.

Lewis and Clark: How Two Women Saved the Corps of Discovery

By Rick Chromey | May 19, 2022 |
SacagaweaIn May of 1804 the Corps of Discovery, led by captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark went on pursuit of a fabled Northwest passage. They’d be gone over two years. Along the way they’d meet dozens of Indian tribes, including the fierce Sioux and Blackfoot. They’d traverse on keelboat, canoe, horseback and by foot through some of the West’s most gorgeous and intimidating landscapes. They’d spend three long winters together–surviving brutal cold, blinding blizzards and relentless rain. They’d encounter grizzlies, elk, rattlesnakes, wolves and other dangerous animals.

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.

The Pain of Thomas Paine

By Rick Chromey | May 14, 2022 |

Thomas PaineIn 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 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.

 

SOURCES:

  1. Read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense
  2. Franklin’s Letter to Paine: Jared Sparks, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore, and Mason, 1840), Vol. X, pp. 281-282.
  3. Samuel Adams Letter to Paine (1802)
  4. Read Elias Boudinot’s response to Paine: The Age of Revelation (1801)

Saint Patrick: The Tale of a Slave for Christ

By Rick Chromey | March 17, 2022 |

Saint PatrickWho 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.

Molly Pitcher: The Revolutionary Woman Behind the Name

By Rick Chromey | March 10, 2022 |

Molly Pitcher

 

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.

 

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SOURCES:

  1. “A Short History of Molly Pitcher: The Heroine of the Battle of Monmouth (Carlisle, PA: The Cornman Printing Company, 1905).
  2. Humphrey, Grace. Women in American History (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers, 1919.
  3. Egle, William Henry. Some Pennsylvania Women During the War of the Revolution. (Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Company, 1898):

Washington’s Farewell: What America Still Hasn’t Learned

By Rick Chromey | March 8, 2022 |

George WashingtonGeorge 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.”

Suicide indeed.

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.

 

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SOURCES:

  1. Last Will and Testament of George Washington” (1802). Available on Google Books for download.
  2. “Washington’s Farewell Address” (1812).
  3. Beecher, Lyman. Lectures on Political Atheism (Boston: John P. Jewett & Company, 1852): 329.

Oh Say Can You See?: How a Divine Miracle Created our National Anthem

By Rick Chromey | March 7, 2022 |

The McHenry FlagThe 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!

 

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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.

John Marrant: America’s First Black Preacher

By Rick Chromey | February 28, 2022 |

John MarrantHe 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.

 

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SOURCES:

  1. “John Marrant” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Marrant
  2. Marrant, John. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black (1785). Available as a Google book download.

Hiram R. Revels: The Tar Heel Who Became America’s First Black U.S. Senator

By Rick Chromey | February 24, 2022 |

 

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.

 

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SOURCES:

  1. “Hiram Rhodes Revels” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiram_Rhodes_Revels
  2. Lynch, John R. The Facts of Reconstruction (New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1913): 38-47. Available for download at Google books.
  3. Nielsen, E. (2008, March 26). Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827-1901). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/revels-hiram-rhodes-1827-1901/