As the saying goes, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”, written by philosopher George Santayana but in its original form it read, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I ordinarily write my stories when an idea pops into my head regardless of the time of the year or a holiday that coincides with the issue date. nThere is only so much information about Valentine’s Day or Father’s Day or other holidays that I can write about having already covered all of them in the past 10 plus years.
However, I think a repeat of the history of the Revolutionary War might be of interest right now as July 4th is around the corner and it is the part of history that interests me the most. The Bryan-Andrew House, circa 1740, would have had Queen Anne’s flag flying outside the home and the Stone-Otis House 1830 would have flown a 24-star flag representing the addition of the state of Missouri on July 4th 1822. It was another 14 years with the addition of Arkansas that a 25-star flag was official on July 3, 1836.
These American flags, representing individual and diverse states, might not have been possible had it not been for fledgling colonies, searching for freedom from oppression, taking a stand against a country more than 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. One must admire the first settlers, who with ultimate faith boarded the tiniest of ships, with a mere assemblage of their household goods, sailing away from that oppression. All was seemingly calm for about 145 years, when in 1765 rumblings for the desire for independence emerged lasting until 1783 with the actual war from 1775 until 1783 when Great Britain was defeated.
Tensions ran high in Boston in early 1770 when more than 2000 British soldiers occupied the city trying to enforce British tax laws, the stamp act being one of the more egregious one. This act or law sought to impose a financial cost to be collected for printed material, newspapers, legal and commercial documents in exchange for a stamp, proving the tax was paid. These stamps were affixed after being purchased from a British agent.
In March of 1770, a British soldier was guarding the King’s money when angry colonists began taunting and threatening him, leading him to strike someone with his bayonet. Rocks, ice and snowballs were hurled at him causing him to fall, calling for reinforcements. British soldiers responded taking up a defensive position in front of the Custom House. Some colonists begged for the soldiers to hold their fire while others dared them to shoot. The violence escalated with the colonists striking the soldiers with clubs and sticks. The report of the next event has been obscured by history but the story goes that someone yelled fire and after all was said and done, 5 colonists lay dead, including Crispus Attucks, a local dockworker.
Attucks was an African American whose father was a black slave and his mother Natick Indian, a tribe located in the Rhode Island colony. What is noted by his death is that he was the first to fall during the Boston Massacre on that cold day in March. Crispus was born into slavery in 1723, the son of Prince Yonger, a slave shipped to America from Africa and Nancy Attucks. Little is known about the family living in a town just outside of Boston but at some point, he escaped, managing to stay free while spending twenty years on trading ships and whaling vessels. In addition to his skill of buying and trading goods, history cites his skill in rope making.
What appears to have led to the fight with the soldier guarding the King’s wealth was an altercation between several rope makers and three British soldiers earlier. The situation was continued three nights later when a soldier entered a pub looking for work. It was not uncommon for the British soldiers to take work away from the colonial citizen, making the men in the pub furious. One of them was Crispus Attucks. What made matters worse was the trial of eight soldiers involved and the defense plea brought forth by John Adams. Yes, John Adams our second U.S. president. Adams labeled the citizens an unruly mob, forcing his clients to open fire.
Attucks was laid in state with the others killed that day, with city leaders waiving the segregation laws allowing him to be buried with them. In the years since his death, Crispus Attucks’ legacy has continued to endure, first with American colonists eager to break from British rule and later among 19th century abolitionists and 20th century civil rights activists.
Sons of Liberty leaders such as John Hancock and Samuel Adams incited colonists to keep on fighting while Paul Revere encouraged anti-British attitudes with an engraving depicting British soldiers callously murdering American colonists. A name not common in the history books is that of James Otis. James was initially a Tory who became disenchanted with Britain when his father was not re-appointed as chief justice of the colony. James became an ardent member of the colonial fight and, as a lawyer, spoke eloquently about the need for freedom from the Crown. His speeches often took place in pubs where the audience was of mixed reactions. At one point, he was taken out and beaten so severely that he became addled and spent most of the rest of his life in obscurity.
His claim to fame, however, is that in his heyday, he penned the 4th amendment where it provided that people should be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures but history unfortunately gives credit to James Madison. Another of James Otis’ contributions to the cause was no taxation without representation which was later attributed to Samuel Adams. Charles Otis in the Stone-Otis house is a descendent of James Otis through his nephew and grandchildren through his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. His only son died at the age of 18. Elizabeth, like her mother, was a Tory and married a British soldier, Leonard Brown moving back to England after he was wounded at Bunker Hill which is often referred to as Breed’s Hill.
The Boston Massacre had a major impact on relations between Britain and the American colonists furthering incensed colonists already weary of British rule and unfair taxation rousing them to fight for independence. The colonists continued to rebel staging the Boston Tea Party and forming the Continental Congress while defending their arsenal at Concord against the redcoats. In addition to what James Otis said and wrote, his sister Mercy Otis Warren wrote plays, poems and satires about the revolution, helping to keep the “fires” in the hearts of the colonists alive against the British. Some years ago, her diary was presented to the television program Pawn Stars for purchase but it was declined and the owner left without his name being recorded as one of the participants of the program.
Emails to various Las Vegas organizations did not produce the diary and since James Otis burned all of his papers, much of Otis’ history of the war was lost. All that remains is what was published at the time for both James and his sister Mercy. There are several books written about James and Mercy’s letters are also available in print. There is a great deal of history in the Revolutionary War, give it a go.