Inspirational Stories of Love, Faith & Family Set in 19th Century America

Category: Colonial

Pastors, Patriots, & the Black Robe Regiment

Reverend George Whitfield

Unlike today, the church in colonial and Revolutionary America served as the hub for political debate, as well as for disseminating and discussing current events. And when it came to British oppression, they didn’t hesitate to call for independence. These fiery orators were dubbed by the British as The Black Robed Regiment in reference to their black clerical robes.

Defenders of the British crown found preachers’ support of the Patriot cause particularly detrimental to their efforts to maintain loyalty among the colonists. In the 1770s, most colonists still considered themselves aligned with England. Many parishioners questioned the legitimacy of revolution. From their pulpits, members of The Black Robed Regiment reassured their congregations that their revolution was justified in the eyes of God.

In fact, the British believed so strongly that it was the preaching from colonial pulpits that pushed its citizens into rebellion that many ministers had bounties put on their heads. Loyalists burned the homes and churches of the pastors who preached against British rule. Hatred by the British for the clergy ran so deep that on the battlefield wounded ministers were frequently executed rather than taken prisoner.

One such member of The Black Robed Regiment was the Reverend Samuel West, pastor of the Congregationalist Church of Dartmouth, Massachusetts. West was invited to give the prestigious Election Day sermon in Boston in 1776. In his message he proclaimed that the colonies were already independent and constituted a new nation. “Any people, when cruelly oppressed has the right to throw the yoke, and be free.” Reverend West  further declared, “To save our country from the hands of our oppressors ought to be dearer to us even than our own lives, and, next the eternal salvation of our own souls, is the thing of greatest importance–a duty so sacred that it cannot justly be dispensed with for the sake of our secular concerns.”

But the Patriot Pastors of the Revolutionary era didn’t just preach about liberty while encouraging their congregations to fight against tyranny, they led the way!

Reverend Peter Muhlenberg reveals his uniform to inspire his congregation to enlist.

Pastor Peter Muhlenberg, A Lutheran minister, ascended the pulpit on a cold Sunday morning in 1776 and preached from Ecclesiastes 3, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” Muhlenberg continued, laying the foundation for the point of his sermon. “In the language of the holy writ, there was a time for all things, a time preach and a time pray, but those times have passed away.” Imagine him standing before his congregation, his voice gaining intensity as he continued. “There is a time to fight, and that time has now come!”

Then, in dramatic fashion, Pastor Muhlenberg removed his clerical robe revealing his military uniform. He challenged his parishioners asking, “Who is with me?” Over 300 men from his church alone joined him in the fight for liberty, volunteering for what eventually became the 8th Virginia Brigade. Pastor Muhlenberg and his men fought in every major engagement of the Revolutionary War and wintered with George Washington at Valley Forge. A native Pennsylvanian, his statue, stands in the U.S. Capitol Building’s Statuary Hall–clerical robes draped over his right arm, sword firmly in his left hand.

The Reverend James Caldwell, minister of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, instructed his congregation that “there are times when it is as righteous to fight as it is to pray.” After the British put a bounty on his head, Caldwell went to the pulpit with two loaded flintlock pistols.

Like Muhlenberg, Caldwell also fought alongside his congregants. When the British captured Elizabethtown, Caldwell’s men were short wadding necessary to pack ammunition in their weapons. Without it they would surely be overrun. Caldwell rode to a nearby church and gathered as many hymnals as he could carry. Returning to his men, he instructed them to rip out the pages and use them as wadding in their muskets. Having stuffed the hymns of such classic writers as Isaac Watts down the barrels of their guns, he yelled “Give ’em Watts boys, put Watts into them!” The British referred to Caldwell as the “Fighting Chaplain” and his brave leadership was immortalized in verse.

“Who’s that riding in on horse-back?
Parson Caldwell, boys; Hooray!
Red-coats call him “Fighting Chaplain,”
How they hate him! Well they may!”

According to David Barton of Wall Builders, “modern historians have noted that not one single right asserted in the Declaration of Independence hadn’t been preached from colonial pulpits prior to 1763.” It wasn’t only the British who gave great attribution to the clergy but Founders like John Adams exalted the clergy’s role in stirring the hearts of the people to fight when he said, “the pulpits  have thundered.”

The call to educate the church on political and social issues didn’t end with American victory at Yorktown. The Black Robed Regiment of the Revolutionary era set a precedence that inspired pastors throughout American history to instruct their parishioners on what the Bible said about issues ranging from slavery to civil rights. Patriotic pastors have led troops into battle, ministered to the wounded, written laws and public policy, lobbied our government, founded universities and have been elected to local, state and federal government offices across the nation.

Sadly, today many pulpits are quiet when it comes to instructing the church on what the Bible has to say about the social and political issues of our day. According to Pastor Dan Fisher, author of Bringing Back the Black Robed Regiment,”Today the church has become marginalized almost to the point of cultural impotency and spiritual irrelevance.”

Pastor Gary Hamrick, of Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, Virginia, said in a recent Election Day sermon, “The church of Jesus Christ is God’s restraining force in the world today against evil. If we abdicate our responsibility as ambassadors for Christ and as agents of truth, then evil will prevail.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the movement underway challenging America’s pastors to speak up in this ever-increasing politically correct, cancel culture we live in or to obtain a Christian voter’s guide for your state, please visit the  National Black Robed Regiment and view the short video.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can pray for America, our political leaders, and important social issues facing our nation, visit Intercessors for America and click on their resource tab.

Join the Conversation: Do you think the church has abdicated its role in teaching and encouraging their congregations about the important social issues of our day?

Why I Chose the 18th Century for My Novel? by Izzy James & a Giveaway

I love discovering new-to-me historical romance authors. And while this week’s guest, Izzy James, is new-to-me she is not new to fans of contemporary romance. Her latest release, The Shopkeeper’s Widow, is her 6th book and her first full-length historical romance. And bonus points for Izzy, she is a both a fellow Virginian and a fellow Pelican Book Group author.

Izzy has graciously offered an eBook copy of The Shopkeeper’s Widow to one lucky Romancing History reader. See the Giveaway section at the bottom of the post for details.

Before we hear why she chose the 18th century for the setting of her latest novel, here’s a little bit about the book.


About the Book

 

Delany Fleet, a widowed former indentured servant living in the colonial port of Norfolk, Virginia, dreams of having an estate of her own where she will never have to compromise her freedom.

When the only man she ever loved shows up with a load of smuggled firearms, Delany is forced to leave her home and her livelihood to protect her family and property from Lord Dunmore’s raids and the conniving plots of a man who claims to be her friend.

Now, with her destiny forever altered, Delany must find a new way to happiness. Can reconnecting with her husband’s family and a former love be the path that God has for her?

Amazon   B&N   Kobo   GooglePlay   iBooks: The Shopkeeper’s Widow


 

Why I Chose the Eighteenth Century for My Novel,

The Shopkeeper’s Widow?

by Izzy James

 

I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia three to four blocks from the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a military/blue collar town surrounded by astounding beauty. So much of the Hampton Roads area is overlayed by modernity that it’s hard to believe it’s one of the oldest settlements in America. The bones of the old town are still there. We still drive on the imprint of the same roads. Three-hundred-year-old houses stand amidst their modern counterparts. This underlying history whispers to me.

At the weaver’s house, Colonial Williamsburg, VA

I’ve been interested in the Revolutionary time period for quite a few years now, and you know, I love Williamsburg. I’ve been there many times, but it wasn’t the only “Revolution City”. There were more Tea Parties than the one in Boston. Once I began to search maps and read diaries and histories of Virginia—Norfolk in particular—Delany’s story developed.

Science was the hobby of intellectually minded people of the time. Experiments in electricity were on going, people were inventing all time. So I made Delany scientifically minded with a strong faith. Then I thought about her freedom. There are many accounts of women taking over businesses when their husbands died during this time frame. It was also normal for people to remarry fairly quickly at the time. There is Delany’s conundrum. She has unprecedented freedom and wealth for her, when her old schoolgirl crush comes back around what should she do? What would you do?

I’d love to hear what you think of The Shopkeeper’s Widow.


Excerpt from The Shopkeeper’s Widow

 

Delany swung back into her shop looking for something to punch and rushed right into Field Archer’s chest. At once surrounded by strong arms and a strong need to bathe, Delany forgot to breathe.

“Aunt Delany,” Ben laughed “Mr. Archer is here to see you.”

“So I see, Ben.” She looked up into his twinkling brown eyes and stepped back a proper distance. Of course his height had not changed, but he had filled out. His chest was broad and solid. She pulled her hands back to her chest before she let them slide over to his shoulders. It was Field Archer. He was right here in her shop.

“Mrs. Fleet.” His baritone strummed a girlish cord of humiliation that she thought long gone.

Before she could respond, the door opened again.

“Well, Mrs. Fleet, that’ll show them, won’t it?” John Crawley’s fat face was slick with glee. His small black eyes gave her the usual once over that made her feel exposed. She squelched a shudder and moved behind the counter.

Field turned his back to them and moved toward the toy shelves.

“The association will back down now.” Crawley wiped his hands down the front of his brown frock coat. “It won’t be long before we can get our ships out of here. We are saved, Mrs. Fleet.”

“What does his lordship want with a printing press?”

“To silence the dirty-shirts.”He hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his coat. “No voice. No followers.”

“It remains to be seen, Mr. Crawley, what the militia will do.”

“We just saw what those yellow-bellies will do.” He bent forward over the counter, enough that she could smell his luncheon ale. “It will all be over soon, and we can get back to business.”

“Was there something you needed, Mr. Crawley?” Delany stepped back from the counter and took a glance at Field hoping for an interruption. Seeing only his back, she gazed at the shelf beneath. A new box of wax inserts for missing teeth caught her eye. “Some plumpers for Mrs. Crawley, perhaps?”

The red in Crawley’s face deepened to crimson. “No, thank you.” He checked his tone. “My mother is in need of nothing at the moment.” This time when he leaned in, the gleam in his eye hinted of impropriety.

Delany leaned back.

“Were you frightened?” He rocked back on his heels, looked over his shoulder at Field, rested his elbows on the counter, and breathed a rotten cloud. “I will protect you.”

Over my dead body. “Thank you, Mr. Crawley, for your offer, but I can take care of myself.” She came out from behind the counter. “Now if there is nothing else” I really shouldn’t keep my customers waiting.” After a last glance at her” and then Field” he exited.

Delany wiped the counter of his greasy imprint.

When the doorbells tinkled, indicating the departure of Mr. Crawley, Field turned toward Mrs. Fleet. The insinuation in Mr. Crawley’s declaration of protection gave Field pause. Perhaps his mother had been wrong to send him here.


About Izzy

 

Izzy James is the pen name of Elizabeth Chevalier Hull. Elizabeth grew up in coastal Virginia surrounded by history. A geographer by degree, Elizabeth loves traveling the historic roads of the Old Dominion seeking the stories they have to tell. Elizabeth still lives in coastal Virginia with her fabulous husband in a house brimming with books.

Connect with Izzy on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

 


Giveaway**

This Giveaway is now closed.

Congratulations to our winner, Susan Sloan!

Izzy has generously offered an eBook copy of The Shopkeeper’s Widow to one lucky Romancing History reader. To be entered in the drawing let’s ponder the questions Izzy posed at the end of her post. Delany’s conundrum is that she experiences unprecedented freedom and wealth for a woman in the 18th century. When her old schoolgirl crush comes back around what should Delaney do? What would you do?

**Giveaway ends midnight, Wednesday, September 16th.

Listen Up, Y’All and Learn Some Southern Slang!

southerngrammarchartIf you think y’all is a contraction for ‘you all’ you’d be partially correct. Y’all is always plural referring to more than one other person. Modern English doesn’t have a word for the plural form of you. During the middle ages, thou was the singular from of you and ye was the plural. Over time “ye all” evolved into “y’all.” To further complicate things, if you’re talking to a group of more than three people in the south, you say “all y’all”.

So who put the “y’all” in the Southern slang?

The Scotch-Irish immigrants that journeyed to America in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Although the first known reference of the term was from Queen Elizabeth I in 1573, today it is almost exclusively an Americanism. As it turns out, the Scotch-Irish (also know as  Scots-Irish) weren’t very Scottish. While some had fled Scotland following an unsuccessful rebellion to Ulster in Ireland, the majority were Irish. The rest were religious refugees who settled in Ulster from the English counties of Cumberland and Northumberland. Others were  from Flanders, Germania or France (the French Huguenots like Paul Revere).  What bound them together was their embrace of reformed Christianity and their rejection of established state religion. By the time they emigrated to America, by and large they considered themselves Irish. It wasn’t until the mass immigration during the Great Famine of the 1840s that the term resurfaced as a means of distinguishing themselves from the new Roman Catholic immigrants.

The Sctoch-Irish settled primarily in the south, especially in the areas of the Appalachian mountains. Their unique history and cultural identity is evident in many words that have seeped into the American vernacular.

Rednecks Despite what you may think, the term didn’t arise from the sunburned necks of these early farmers. During the 1600s, protestant insurgents wore a red scarf around their necks to signify their allegiance  to the rebellion against the state churches of Scotland and Ireland.

Backwooods When they arrived in America, they weren’t necessarily greeted with open arms. The English considered them dirty, rebellious, poor and uneducated. In order to avoid the crowded conditions along the eastern seaboard and the discrimination they encountered in the cities and small towns in the colonies, they settled further west. Because they inhabited the areas behind civilization pushing the English colonial frontier, the English settlers said they lived in the backwoods.

hillbillyHillbilly Although following the Civil War the term took on a derogatory stereotype of being backward, prone to violence, and ignorant of modern customs, the term is believed to have originated from the Scotch-Irish themselves. “Hill-folk” referred to people that preferred isolation from the greater society and lived in the Scottish highlands while “billy” meant “comrade” or “companion.”

Some other phrases we can trace to America’s frontier busting Scotch-Irish ancestors:

Barking Up the Wrong TreeMistaken/Picked a fight with the wrong person. When hunting dogs chased raccoons up a tree and didn’t notice the critters jumped into another, they were said to be barking up the wrong tree.

Fly off the HandleLose your temper unexpectedly, overreact. As the Scotch Irish settled the frontier, they felled the dense forests of the eastern woodlands. A sturdy ax was essential to their success. Men carved their own handles and then attached them to ax heads shipped from the East. Because they were crudely fitted together, ax heads were known to fly off the handle, posing the possibility of serious injury to those nearby.

Davy Crockett was a frontier trailblazer of Scotch-Irish ancestry.

Davy Crockett was a frontier trailblazer of Scotch-Irish ancestry.

Ax to GrindPersonal grievance with someone, usually a strong selfish motivation. On the frontier, an ax was sharpened on a sandstone grinding wheel powered by a foot pump. When you were angry enough at someone, sharpening your ax meant you were ready for a fight.

TrailblazerThe first person to do something. This phrase came into being as the Scotch-Irish pushed their way deeper and deeper into the American frontier. Since they were exploring uncharted territory and didn’t want to get lost, they marked a trail by hacking bark off the trees. This method of marking trees was known as “blazing” since the mark resembled the white blaze on a horse’s nose.

The South today is known for its colorful style of self-expression. Although they can leave a Yankee scratching their head, there is a unique charm to these down-to-earth phrases for stating exactly what’s on the speaker’s mind.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite Southern phrases and their translations. If these don’t just dill your pickle, I don’t know what will.

“That possum’s on the stump!” Translation: That’s as good as it gets!

“His knickers are in a knot.” Translation: Look out, someone’s angry!

hissyfit“About to pop!” Translation: You’re full after eating a lot

“A mind to!” Translation: You are thinking about doing something.

“His heart is a thumpin’ gizzard.” Translation: You’re cold-hearted and cruel

“She could start an argument in an empty house.” Translation: You’re cantankerous!

“Cain’t never could.” Translation: You’ll never do it if you don’t try

“He thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow.” Translation: You’re conceited or vain.

“Hit the bushes!” Translation: Go to the bathroom!

“Huzzy” Translation: a bad woman like the kind that will steal your man!

jerk-a-knot“He squeezes a quarter so tight the eagle screams.” Translation: You’re cheap.

“Cattywampus.” Translation: askew or awry; cockeyed

“Too poor to paint, too proud to whitewash.” Translation: You’re broke.

“That woman is talking with her tongue out of her shoe.” She’s lyin’.

“He’s only got one oar in the water.” Translation: He’s not too bright.”

“Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit.” Translation: Who would’ve known?

chickenhead“You don’t watch out, I’m gonna cream yo’ corn.” Translation: Somebody’s in real trouble!

“He fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.” Translation: You’re not too good lookin’.

“Fat as a tick.” Translation: Full and well-fed.

The richness of Southern speech goes far beyond one or two-word expressions and as you’ve seen, there’s a Southern expression for every occasion.

I’m just happier than a dead pig in sunshine that all y’all stopped by the blog today!

What is your favorite Southern expression? Feel free to share it in the comments below!

 

Pastors & Patriots, The Black Robed Regiment

Evangelist, George Whitefield (1714-1770) preaching to colonial Americans.

Unlike today, the church in colonial and Revolutionary America served as the hub for political debate, as well as for disseminating and discussing current events. And when it came to British oppression, they didn’t hesitate to call for independence. These fiery orators were dubbed by the British as The Black Robed Regiment in reference to their black clerical robes.

Defenders of the British crown found preachers’ support of the Patriot cause particularly detrimental to their efforts to maintain loyalty among the colonists. In the 1770s, most colonists still considered themselves aligned with England. Many parishioners questioned the legitimacy of revolution. From their pulpits, members of The Black Robed Regiment reassured their congregations that their revolution was justified in the eyes of God.

In fact, the British believed so strongly that it was the preaching from colonial pulpits that pushed its citizens into rebellion that many ministers had bounties put on their heads. Loyalists burned the homes and churches of the pastors who preached against British rule. Hatred by the British for the clergy ran so deep that on the battlefield wounded ministers were frequently executed rather than taken prisoner.

One such member of The Black Robed Regiment was the Reverend Samuel West, pastor of the Congregationalist Church of Dartmouth, Massachusetts. West was invited to give the prestigious Election Day sermon in Boston in 1776. In his message he proclaimed that the colonies were already independent and constituted a new nation. “Any people, when cruelly oppressed has the right to throw the yoke, and be free.” Reverend West  further declared, “To save our country from the hands of our oppressors ought to be dearer to us even than our own lives, and, next the eternal salvation of our own souls, is the thing of greatest importance–a duty so sacred that it cannot justly be dispensed with for the sake of our secular concerns.”

But the Patriot Pastors of the Revolutionary era didn’t just preach about liberty while encouraging their congregations to fight against tyranny, they led the way!

muhlenberg

Pastor Muhlenberg revealing his Continental Army uniform.

Pastor Peter Muhlenberg, A Lutheran minister, ascended the pulpit on a cold Sunday morning in 1776 and preached from Ecclesiastes 3, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” Muhlenberg continued, laying the foundation for the point of his sermon. “In the language of the holy writ, there was a time for all things, a time preach and a time pray, but those times have passed away.” Imagine him standing before his congregation, his voice gaining intensity as he continued. “There is a time to fight, and that time has now come!”

Then, in dramatic fashion, Pastor Muhlenberg removed his clerical robe revealing his military uniform. He challenged his parishioners asking, “Who is with me?” Over 300 men from his church alone joined him in the fight for liberty, volunteering for what eventually became the 8th Virginia Brigade. Pastor Muhlenberg and his men fought in every major engagement of the Revolutionary War and wintered with George Washington at Valley Forge. A native Pennsylvanian, his statue, stands in the U.S. Capitol Building’s Statuary Hall–clerical robes draped over his right arm, sword firmly in his left hand.

caldwell

James Caldwell instructing his men to “Give ’em Watts, boys!”

The Reverend James Caldwell, minister of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, instructed his congregation that “there are times when it is as righteous to fight as it is to pray.” After the British put a bounty on his head, Caldwell went to the pulpit with two loaded flintlock pistols.

Like Muhlenberg, Caldwell also fought alongside his congregants. When the British captured Elizabethtown, Caldwell’s men were short wadding necessary to pack ammunition in their weapons. Without it they would surely be overrun. Caldwell rode to a nearby church and gathered as many hymnals as he could carry. Returning to his men, he instructed them to rip out the pages and use them as wadding in their muskets. Having stuffed the hymns of such classic writers as Isaac Watts down the barrels of their guns, he yelled “Give ’em Watts boys, put Watts into them!” The British referred to Caldwell as the “Fighting Chaplain” and his brave leadership was immortalized in verse.

“Who’s that riding in on horse-back?
Parson Caldwell, boys; Hooray!
Red-coats call him “Fighting Chaplain,”
How they hate him! Well they may!”

According to David Barton of Wall Builders, “modern historians have noted that not one single right asserted in the Declaration of Independence hadn’t been preached from colonial pulpits prior to 1763.” It wasn’t only the British who gave great attribution to the clergy but Founders like John Adams exalted the clergy’s role in stirring the hearts of the people to fight when he said, “the pulpits  have thundered.”

The call to educate the church on political and social issues didn’t end with American victory at Yorktown. The Black Robed Regiment of the Revolutionary era set a precedence that inspired pastors throughout American history to instruct their parishioners on what the Bible said about issues ranging from slavery to civil rights. Patriotic pastors have led troops into battle, ministered to the wounded, written laws and public policy, lobbied our government, founded universities and have been elected to local, state and federal government offices across the nation.

fisherbookSadly, today many pulpits are quiet when it comes to instructing the church on what the Bible has to say about the social and political issues of our day. According to Pastor Dan Fisher, author of Bringing Back the Black Robed Regiment,”Today the church has become marginalized almost to the point of cultural impotency and spiritual irrelevance.”

I’m proud to belong to a church where the pastor does apply Biblical principles to the events shaping the world we live and who challenges us to use our vote to impact our culture. In fact, it was from him I learned of The Black Robed Regiment when he gave his annual Election Day sermon last Sunday.

If you’re interested in learning more about the movement underway challenging America’s pastors to speak up in this ever-increasing politically correct world we live in or to obtain a Christian voter’s guide for your state, please visit the  National Black Robed Regiment and view the short video.

How a Snake Inspired the American Revolution

Don't Tread on Me Flag courtesy C. WhittenIf you’re anything like me, snakes give you the heebie-jeebies. And like me, you’ve probably seen that “Don’t Tread on Me” rattlesnake plastered on license plates, bumper stickers, hats and t-shirts. I’ve even seen it waived at political rallies on the news but I never understood what it meant…until now. And I’ve learned a snake may be the most frequently occurring symbol used to rally the colonists to unite and break the oppressive rule of the British crown.

Today we know it as the Gadsden Flag with its bright yellow background. But how did it come to represent the liberty sought by our forefathers?

Like so many things, it all began with Benjamin Franklin.

Join_or_DieIn 1751, Franklin wrote a humorous editorial in the Pennsylvania Gazette suggesting that in cordial response to Britain’s policy of sending convicts to America, America should return the favor by sending rattlesnakes to Britain. Years later during the French & Indian War, he resurrected his idea and created this first American political cartoon, a wood carving, using the image of a segmented snake. Urging the thirteen colonies to unite in common defense,  Franklin played on a myth common at the time that a dismembered snake could grow back together if the pieces were realigned before sunset. Each segment is labeled with the initial of one of the thirteen colonies however he lumped all of New England together (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island) under the notation N.E. as the head of the snake, ready to strike.

revere-join-or-dieThis image was reprinted in newspapers throughout the colonies, and was often adapted by the publisher. Left is Paul Revere’s modified “Join or Die” serpent from the masthead of the Boston Journal, July 7, 1774.

Historians believe it was Franklin who wrote anonymously to the Pennsylvania Journal as “An American Guesser”, expounding on his use of the snake and advocating for its use as a national symbol:

  • No eye-lids so she is always on the watch, always vigilant.
  • Doesn’t begin an attack, but once in battle, she doesn’t surrender.
  • Her defenses are hidden (in her mouth) so she appears weak. And though the bite is small, it’s deadly.
  • She doesn’t attack until after she gives warning.

Franklin’s reptile resurfaced years later, once again as a symbol to unite Americans against the oppressive Stamp Act. This time the previously segmented viper had transformed into the coiled rattlesnake we recognize today.

Navy-Jack-clip-artAccording to historian Christopher Whitten, in 1775  the Continental Congress got word that two ships would be arriving in America laden with arms and powder to resupply British troops. The Congress authorized the building of  four ships to form the first American Navy and undertook a secret mission to capture those ships and their precious cargo. Colonel Christopher Gadsden, a member of the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress, appointed Commodore Esek Hopkins as the Commodore of the Navy. Believing the Commodore needed his own personal standard, Gadsden presented Hopkins with the yellow, snake-coiled “Don’t Tread on Me” flag . Many speculate that John Paul Jones, first lieutenant aboard the Alfred, most likely ran the standard up the gaff before the mission commenced. The snake even appeared across the red stripes of the first Navy jack.

CMMFlagOnce again, the coiled reptile was reprinted in publications throughout the colonies. Since there was no distinctive American symbol at the time, the “Don’t Tread on Me” image appeared on uniform buttons, banners, and flags. The Culpeper County Virginia Minute Men adopted the iconic coiled rattlesnake on their flag but added the words of Virginia Minute Men Organizer Patrick Henry, “Liberty or Death.” Also seen on currency, the Georgia-snakeseal from a 1778 $20 bill from Georgia (right), Gadsden’s home state, proudly displayed a serpent ready to strike. The new currency was financed by property seized from loyalists. The motto reads “Nemo me impune lacesset,” or “No one will provoke me with impunity.”

Its odd to think that if Franklin had his way, we might revere the snake instead of the bald eagle. While I take great pride in my heritage and the history behind the Gadsden flag, I’m glad this reptilian image remains a symbol of government oppression and not my national identity.

Do you think the snake would have made a good icon for America?

 

 

What’s Napoleon Hiding in There?

Napoleon in His Study, by Jacques Louis David, 1812

Napoleon in His Study, by Jacques Louis David, 1812

Have you ever wondered what men are hiding inside their waist coats in all those classical portraits?

You know what I’m talking about, right? All those stately portraits from the 18th and 19th century where men are posed with their right hand tucked inside their clothing. It seems rather odd to me. Who really stands that way? What could they be hiding? Perhaps a snack in case the portrait session lasted too long? Maybe a weapon in case the artist didn’t portray them in a favorable manner? Some have suggested that the portrait’s subject had an ulcer or other stomach ailment, or perhaps he is winding his watch or scratching an itch.

It seems the real reason is quite simple.

Early in the 18th century, English portrait artists began looking to classical orators and the postures used in ancient Greek and Roman statuary for their inspiration.  The hidden-hand pose, according to the Greeks, conveyed calm assurance and became popular among the nation’s statesmen. In fact, many Greeks considered it rude to speak with your hands outside of your clothing especially when discussing matters of state.

Statue of Aeschines, Greek Orator

Statue of Aeschines, Greek Orator

By the time of Aeschines, a famous Greek statesman and orator, the tradition had gone out of vogue. But in his speech, Against Timarchus (346 B.C.), Aeschines challenges Timarchus and all Greek statesmen to reinstate the custom:

“And so decorous were those public men of old, Pericles [495-429 B.C.], Themistocles [524-459 B.C.], and Aristeides [530-468 B.C.] (who was called by a name most unlike that by which Timarchus here is called), that to speak with the arm outside the cloak, as we all do nowadays as a matter of course, was regarded then as an ill-mannered thing, and they carefully refrained from doing it. And I can point to a piece of evidence which seems to me very weighty and tangible. I am sure you have all sailed over to Salamis, and have seen the statue of Solon [638-558 B.C.] there. You can therefore yourselves bear witness that in the statue that is set up in the Salaminian market-place Solon stands with his arm inside his cloak. Now this is a reminiscence, fellow citizens, and an imitation of the posture of Solon, showing his customary bearing as he used to address the people of Athens.”

Marquis de Layfayette, portrait by Charles Wilson Peale

Marquis de Lafayette, portrait by Charles Wilson Peale

While Napoleon’s portrait by Jacques Louis David may be the most iconic depiction of a “hidden hand” portrait, the fad had been revived nearly a hundred years earlier. Francois Nivelon’s A Book Of Genteel Behavior of 1738 states the hand-inside-vest pose denoted “manly boldness tempered with modesty.” It seems the English elite liked this portrayal of themselves and began commissioning artists to paint them in the revived Greek pose. In her essay,”Re-Dressing Classical Statuary: The Eighteenth-Century ‘Hand-in-Waistcoat’ Portrait,” Arline Meyer notes the pose being used in eighteenth century British portraiture as a sign of the sitter’s breeding. The gesture became used so frequently that people questioned whether or not the artists were even capable of painting hands.

Photograph by Mathew Brady

Photograph by Mathew Brady

Even with the advent of photography, the stance continued to remain popular. Although usually photographed in a seated position, “hand-in-pocket” images can be found of American weapons inventor Samuel Colt, author of The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx, and many civil war general including Major Generals George B. McClellan, Ambrose Burnside and William Tecumseh Sherman. The practice fell out of favor by the end of the 19th century, although it was still occasionally used in the 20th century, most famously by  Joseph Stalin.

With the introduction of smart phones and their ability to take photos anywhere at anytime, do you think we’ve lost an ere of respectability in the way we represent ourselves in photos today?

 

What do April 1, a sundial and Benjamin Franklin all have in common?

What do April 1, a sundial and Benjamin Franklin all have in common?

Answer: The Penny

April first is not just April Fools day, its also National One Cent Day and the penny can trace its lineage to one of America’s favorite founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin designed the first United States one cent coin minted in 1787.

Fugio One Cent Coin

Fugio One Cent Coin

Franklin’s coin was much larger than today’s penny, nearly the size of a half-dollar.  At that time, people expected coins to contain close to their face value in metal. The first official one cent coin has become known as the Fugio Cent to coin collector’s in reference to the Latin phrase “Fugio” (Latin: I flee/fly) engraved on the reverse side of the coin along with the images of a sun shining down on a sun dial. Beneath the sundial appeared the phrase, “Mind Your Business.” The image and the words form a rebus meaning that “time flies, do your work.”

The reverse side of the coin featured a chain of 13 links, each representing one of the original thirteen colonies. Inside the circle chain was engraved the motto “We Are One”. Gold and silver coins transitioned to the motto “E pluribus unum” (Latin: Out of Many, One) from the Great Seal of the United States.

Flying Eagle Penny

Flying Eagle Penny

By the 1850s, the United States Treasury was looking to reduce the size and composition of the one-cent coin to make it easier to handle and more economical to mint. In 1857 the United States Government introduced the Flying Eagle cent. This was the first one cent coin minted in the exact diameter of the modern penny you have in your pocket. Although somewhat thicker and heavier, the Flying Eagle was also the first penny composed of copper and nickel.

Indian Head Penny

Indian Head Penny

The design changed again in 1859 portraying the Goddess of Liberty wearing an Indian headdress. The Indian head penny remained in circulation until 1909 when it was replaced by the image of President Lincoln issued for the 100th anniversary of the assassinated president’s birth and still graces the face of the one cent coin. Today’s penny is made of copper and zinc and the Union Shield is engraved on the reverse side replacing the Lincoln Memorial which had been there since 1959.

Although pennies may be the smallest denomination of United States currency, they’ve had a huge impact on American expressions concerning both saving and spending money. Some of the oldest sayings use the word “penny” as a way of identifying a minimal amount, low-cost  or limited value.

saving penniesThe proverb “a penny spar’d is twice got” encourages frugality. By declining to spend a penny and to save one’s money instead, you are a penny up rather than a penny down, hence ‘twice got’. “A penny saved is a penny earned” is another thrifty axiom often falsely attributed to Benjamin Franklin. First published in Pall Mall magazine in 1899, the maxim implies that even small bits of money are important though many people don’t think a penny is really worth saving.

If you’re experiencing a bad turn of events, then you might find yourself “without two pennies to rub together.” This expression is often muttered by those who tend to spend their money as soon as they get it. Thus, they never seem to have any cash in their pocket.

pennypincher

Here are some other common English phrases using the word penny:

Penny Pincher: a bargain hunter or someone who is always trying to get a good deal

Pretty Penny: an expression used to describe an expensive or extravagant item

Penny wise and pound foolish: someone who watches small expenditures while making unwise investments or squanders money on frivolous expensive purchases

In for a penny, in for a pound: when a good opportunity finally comes your way  you’re willing to risk whatever you have in the venture

Penny Dreadfuls: serial stories printed on cheap pulp paper selling for one cent per issue

Penny ante poker: a poker game between players not willing to risk much cash

Although I can’t afford to give each of you “a penny for your thoughts,” I hope you have a little more respect for the smallest coin in your wallet.

Peculiar Courting Customs

Long before the automobile, telephone and the Friday night football game defined modern dating, there was courtship. A serious, exclusive commitment usually sanctioned by both sets of parents, that often implied the couple was intending to marry. But in times when the opposite sex didn’t mingle in public unless chaperoned, how did perspective beaus let a lady know she had captured his affections? Here’s some fun and quite unusual customs from the past that helped pave the wave to romance for our ancestors.

Antique Welsh Love Spoons

Antique Welsh Love Spoons

Carved from the Heart

In Wales, when a young man wanted to court, he carved his special lady a love spoon. Intricate in detail, these love offerings took hours to craft thereby demonstrating his devotion to his intended. If the young woman accepted the spoon, they were considered courting. Although this ritual has faded in modern Wales, love spoons are still given as gifts for weddings, anniversaries and Valentine’s day.

FAN-tastic Flirting

With all their rules about the opposite sex mingling, those stodgy upper-class Victorians made the art of wooing a woman tricky indeed. Since a gentleman was not allowed to speak to a woman to whom he hadn’t been properly introduced, he needed some clue a lady was open to his attention. Thus the language of the fan was born.  When a lady caught a man staring from across the room, her swift moving fan indicated she was unattached while a slow flapping one signaled she was engaged. If she laid the fan against her right cheek, she was available and open to an introduction. However, if the lady rested the fan against her left cheek, the unlucky fellow learned of her disinterest and spared himself an awkward introduction.

Speak Up, I Can’t Hear You

Couple using a courting stick

Couple using a courting stick

In 17th century America, a young man had little opportunity to woo his love in private. How was he to convince the lady he fancied of his unending devotion when in cramped quarters with her father hovering closeby? The answer, the courting trumpet (also know as a whispering stick or courting tube). By placing one end of a hollow wooden tube in her ear while her beau whispered sweet nothings from the other side, the couple ensured their privacy no matter how many listening ears were nearby.

Seal the Deal with Fruit

If you thought a carved wooden spoon was practical, how about a slice of apple? In rural Austria, available young ladies would shove an apple wedge in their armpit during dances. At the conclusion of festivities, she offered it to the lucky young man she most admired. Now if you’re like me you’re already wrinkling your nose. But wait it gets even better. If he returns her affections, he eats the fruit!

If my hubby were required to eat this putrid offering, I can nearly guarantee I’d still be single! While this old-fashioned gal loves to keep old traditions alive, eating the apple wedge is one courting ritual that should stay buried in the past!

Another old-fashioned way lovers kept the romance alive in the not-so-distant past was letter writing. While living on opposite sides of the country, in the dark ages before email and texting, my hubby wooed me the old-fashioned way– hand-written letters. We kept the post office in business, often exchanging 3-5 letters every week. I still have them in a box in my mother’s hope chest at the foot of my bed.

How did your sweetie woo you?

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