Friday, November 28, 2008

Samuel Whittemore

Whenever writing about the events of the American Revolution, I always like to mention the story of Benjamin Franklin. He spent eighteen years of his life in London, serving as the colonies' agent in the UK. What he advocated as that the colonies should have proportional representation in Parliment, until that proportion reached 50%, at which point there could be a peaceful split, rather like the eastern and western Roman Empire. To Franklin in 1774, a war between Britian and the colonies represented a tragic civil war within the Anglo-Saxon world. Franklin was more than a century ahead of his time- what he advocated was almost identical to the Modern British Commonealth. The Franklin family experienced its own civil war- Franklin's son William, the Royal Governor of New Jersey, stayed loyal to the Crown, and the two men only reconciled after the war. In 1775, when Franklin learned that the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, was seeking to limit "English liberties" for the colonists, he leaked that information, in an effort to get Hutchinson replaced, and the policy changed. No such luck. So, at the age of 69, Benjamin Franklin became a revolutionary. I tell my English friends that if you look at it that way, they should take the American Revolution as compliment. Why did colonists take up arms against the Crown? Because the Crown, and Parliment were messing with their rights as Englishmen, they'd rather risk death than put up with that!

On that fateful afternoon of April 18, 1775, a grey haired gentleman in Massachusetts named Samuel Whittemore heard about the fighting at Lexington and Concord, so he got out his rifle. and his dueling pistols (note: I think it is a good idea *not* to mess with people who keep a set of dueling pistols), and a sabre, and took up a position close to the road to Boston. He was a former British officer who had served in the sieges of both Louisberg and Quebec, and then "went native", buying a farm and raising a family in America. At close range, Samuel Whittemore fired his rifle and both pistols, killing three British soldiers. He was trying to swing away with his sabre when a group of extremely irate redcoats set upon him, shot him in the face, beat him on the head with a rifle butt, and bayoneted him *thirteen* *times*. After the battle, the local doctor took one look at Whittemore's wounds, and declared that there was nothing he could do. Well, Samuel Whittemore had surprised the British, and he managed to *astonish* that doctor. He lived another 17 years ten months- he even got to shake hands with President George Washington, and to be realized as the oldest man to bear arms in the Revolutionary War. On April 19, 1775, Samuel Whittemore was just three months short of his 80th birthday.

In reading up on the Battles of the Lexington and Concord, I came across a coincidence that amazed me. I do not envy the lot of the British soldiers who got sent on that mission that day. Form up at 8pm, do a night march of 18 miles to Lexington, get in a skirmish, march another six miles to Concord, get in a *serious* firefight, and then start marching all the way back to Boston- with everybody and his second cousin sniping at you from behind stone walls. The only reason why they didn't get wiped out, was that early in the morning, the Colonel in chare of that 700 man unit sent a messenger back to Boston, requesting reinforcements. The Commander of that 1,400 man relief column was General Hugh Percy, later Duke of Northumberland. The Percy family goes *way* back in English history- to William the Conquerer. Percys are prominent in Shakespeare's histories, and one as executed by Elizabeth I. General Percy served for another two years in America, then returned to England (He disapproved of Lord North's war policies.) Hugh had a 23 years younger illegitimate half-brother, who unlike the rest of his family, stayed out of the military and politics, instead pursuing a carrer in science, achieving great deal of success as a chemist and mineralogist. By the time he died, heirless, in 1829, he had amassed quite a fortune. Although he'd never been to America, he left his entire estate to the United States government, asking that it be used to advance the study of science. Of course, James did not go by the name of Percy. His birthname was Smithson. And 180 years after his death, if you visit ashington D.C., you can visit the result of the bequest- the Smithsonian Institution.

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