Lanterns: Challenge and Opportunity

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Challenge and Opportunity

The soldiers were gradually gathering their supplies and equipment for the night’s march. Departure was hours away, so there was no sense of urgency. The men were seasoned warriors; they had seen much death and mayhem. They felt nothing as they prepared for tonight’s mission, no fear, no excitement, nothing.  There was no love of country, at least not for the average enlisted man-- it was just a job.  A dangerous job.

The leaders and officers understood something very well-- they believed the average man, and certainly, no woman could understand the complexity of war, battle strategy, troop movements and the details needed to secure a victory not only in this battle but in the overall war.  For this reason, officers and commanders were on the battlefield to make decisions and shout orders and encouragement or use the bugle and flags to signal orders to their men.

The commons area was abuzz with men-- soldiers, visiting with each other as they prepared their packs.  They never knew how long they might be out and when their next hot meal might be so, they took it upon themselves to secure some hardtack or jerky to stash with their powder, patches, and balls.  The simple woman who was peddling hardtack among the troops was largely ignored by all but those who were interested in her wares.

“Miss Sally” as she was known to the British troops, was not her real name, nor was she simple, nor was she just selling wares.  She was a spy.

There were dozens of “Miss Sally’s” during the Revolution. Taking advantage of the arrogance of the British officer corps, they were able to freely move among the men preparing to go on a mission, or even in their quarters as they discussed plans.  The women would then relay any information they could glean-- from troop strength to actual destinations and times, which they would then pass off to the Militia. It was a dangerous game.

Hannah Blair was one such woman.  As a Quaker in Pennsylvania, she was a pacifist due to her religion, yet she wanted to support the Patriot cause. Hannah would protect soldiers as they would move through the area in which her farm was located. She had to take care not to be known by the British or the Loyalists, as well.  The nation was as deeply divided during the Revolution as it was during the Civil War.  Even Benjamin Franklin’s own son was a Loyalist. Family and friends could easily betray a Patriot.

Hannah would offer medical treatment, food, carry secret messages, and even help mend uniforms.  One day a Loyalist witnessed her aid. Gathering help from others, they burned her farm to the ground.  Her house, barn, and other structures were all gone.  

Very little is known about Hannah; we don’t even know if she was married or had any children. How many “Hannah’s” were there? Might the Revolution have been won without them? Not likely.

Ask the average person to name a woman Patriot, and they will think of Betsy Ross.  Betsy’s notoriety likely stems from her friendship with George and Martha Washington.  Betsy’s family was in the upholstery business, and they were devout Quakers. Betsy fell in love with John Ross, but he was from the Christian church, and the Quakers would never allow an interdenominational marriage. Betsy and John went to New Jersey and eloped, and started their own upholstery business within two years.  Since they could not expect support from her Quaker family, they went to Christ Church and sat in the twelfth pew, right next to George and Martha Washington’s pew.  They became close friends.

There is much speculation as to whether Betsy was responsible for designing and making our first flag.  Family history and tradition is that George gave her a sketch and she made recommendations such as a five-pointed star vs. a six point. Everything about the flag had a meaning, of course, the 13 stars and stripes represented the original colonies and states-- red for valor and hardiness, blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice, and white for innocence and purity.

While Betsy did not directly face hardship for her help in the cause, it certainly had a direct impact on her.  John joined the militia in 1776 after the war impacted their business.  John was killed in an explosion later that year. Betsy then married sea captain, Joseph Ashburn in 1777.  Living in Philadelphia, she was forced to share her house with British soldiers while Washington’s troops suffered in Valley Forge. Joseph was captured by the British and died in captivity after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

Betsy married a third time in 1778 to an old friend, John Claypoole. John was also a sailor, but Betsy convinced him to stay on the land and join her in the upholstery business.  Betsy had seven children, two with Joseph, and five with John. Only five of her children lived to adulthood.  John died in 1817, and Betsy continued in her upholstery business until 1827, and died in January 1836.  A major bridge in Philadelphia bears her name.

As each of us goes through life, we are presented with two things in general … opportunities and challenges.  No one would have faulted Hannah Blair had she simply minded her own business, worked her farm, and remained uninvolved on either side. That would have been the "safe" option. Both Hannah and Betsy had strong Quaker roots; it would not only be safer, it would have been in line with their religious beliefs.  Liberty is a seed that once planted is difficult to kill or uproot. These women were up to the challenge and took the opportunities which presented themselves.

These were life and death decisions. Certainly, they risked all … life, liberty, and property. Today is no different in that we are faced with opportunities and challenges, as well.  While we are not involved in a shooting war, there is a war ongoing.  As during the Revolution, there are those who appear to be on our side, but are Loyalists--  loyal to the progressive agenda put in place in the early 20th century. Just as the early patriots had to be careful who they trusted, who truly wanted liberty, so must we.

The Declaration of Independence was the idea they fought for.  Our cause should be no different.   Yet, we fight amongst ourselves. If we were 18th-century patriots, it would be as if some of us wanted completely free of Great Britain; some wanted to keep the British Army, some the Navy, some the currency, some a combination, and others stay fully tied to the crown.  

You can’t be a little free; it’s like being a little pregnant. You either are, or you are not.  You have a challenge and an opportunity.  It may not be the same faced by Hannah and Betsy, but it is yours just the same.  Liberty is at stake, what will you do?

 

Feature photo: flickr 

 

Written by Michael Murphy The Voice of Reason

The Voice of Reason

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