America’s birthday is upon us once again. To most folks it means bar-b-cues and fireworks. Some of those folks might recall that way back when someone dumped some tea in a harbor and George Washington kicked the British out after a long cold winter at Valley Forge. Oh yeah, and a guy named Paul Revere rode a horse warning that the British were coming so George could kick them out. Clearly, there is quite a bit more to it than that and the American revolution really is a very compelling story. As with any major event in world history, there are many myths surrounding this period. Some of them with a supernatural twist.
Considered by many to be the “Father of our Country,” from the cherry tree story to the composition of his dentures, George Washington boasts numerous myths and legends, second only to Benjamin Franklin. One such story comes out of the harsh and deadly winter at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. Washington and the Continental Army wintered there in 1777-1778 under brutal conditions. 10,000 men began the winter and only 7,500 remained to see the spring thaw thanks to freezing temperatures, food shortages, and disease.
As the unverifiable (according to Snopes, likely fabricated) story goes, Washington was sitting at a table in his tent writing a communique when a beautiful otherworldly woman appeared to him. Referring to him as “Son of the Republic” she showed him a vision of the “birth, progress, and destiny of the United States”. Seeing that the Union would prevail and prosper gave him the renewed strength to endure the current and coming challenges.
You can’t think about the Revolutionary War without thinking about the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration is not just the famous “we hold these truths to be self evident” part but basically an indictment of the King. Signing the document would be an act of treason and these men’s property and very lives were at stake. There were tense moments of debate when the adoption of the document almost stalled.
There is a legend that says it was during one of these pivotal moments when an unknown person stood and gave a deeply rousing speech. When he finished the group erupted and even the most hesitant signed the document. When they turned to congratulate the man on his words, he had vanished. Was he a very humble patriot, an angel, a time traveler, or something else? Here’s an excerpt from his oration:
“Sign that parchment! Sign, if the next moment the gibbet’s rope is about your neck! Sign, if the next minute this hall rings with the clash of falling axes! Sign, by all your hopes in life or death, as men, as husbands, as fathers, brothers, sign your names to the parchment, or be accursed forever! Sign, and not only for your selves, but for all ages, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the bible of the rights of man forever.’’
There is one strange coincidence that is verifiable, three of the first five Presidents passed away on July 4. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died in 1826 and James Monroe died on that day in 1831.
The birth of America is a truly fascinating and dramatic period. Personally, I like to learn about history from perspectives other than the commonly accepted “text book” versions. Kenneth C. Davis wrote a really great read, Don’t Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know about American History but Never Learned. Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is another.
New perspectives on commonly known events provide deeper understanding about history and the people who lived it, and even those who keep re-living it. After all, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, is said to be haunted by none other than Benjamin Franklin.
Happy Independence Day!