History aficionados don’t spend all their time in dark, musty-smelling crannies. Sometimes they remember that they are creating history right this very minute, and purposefully interact in the ‘real world.’
I admit there are some days when my minutes are full of eating meals, reading the newspaper, cleaning house, grocery shopping, walking the dog, etc., that I don’t feel like my personal history is very interesting. It’s on those “non-history” days when I’m most apt to visit some of my favorite blogs, and I can experience the thrill of being a personal history peeping-Tom. On those same days sometimes I also hunt for blogs that are weird, bizarre, or outright laughable. There’s nothing like another person’s oddities to make me feel smug about my own lifestyle.
Strangely the days when I feel the most connected to history, is when I am visiting cemeteries. I spend way too much time in them. Having been an amateur genealogist for many years, I value the scratchings on the moss-covered stones for the secrets they reveal. Every stone has its story. Every story has a once living, breathing, history-making human being connected with it.
Last year while visiting an out-of-the-way cemetery near Concord, New Hampshire, I found my self dumb-struck (truly) at finding the grave of my fourth great-grandfather, Ezra Abbott. I was familiar with the dates and events connected with his life. Even though I know he has long turned to dust, there was something intimate about finding myself at his last resting place. I touched his stone, and thanked him out loud.
Ezra was 21 years old when he began serving in the first of several campaigns of the American Revolution. He was at Ticonderoga in May 1777, Col. Thomas Stickney’s regiment, Capt. Ebenezer Webster’s company. He was with General John Stark in the Battle of Bennington, Aug. 17, 1777 and used to relate many anecdotes of the battle. He was taken prisoner at Fort Cedars, May 19, 1779, and lost all his arms, equipment, and most of his clothing. He married three times, and produced eleven children.
He was only one of thousands of New Hampshire citizens who risked their lives, families and fortunes to support that cause of freedom. No battles were fought on New Hampshire soil during the American Revolution; however New Hampshire citizens were prominent in events from Bunker Breed’s Hill to the surrender of Burgoyne.
I have to wonder, if identical circumstances arose today, how many of us would be willing to make the same sacrifices. During the American Revolution, the loyalties of the country was divided into approximate thirds. 1/3 of the people were what we now call ‘patriots.’ 1/3 supported the British government, and were called ‘loyalists,’ or ‘Tories.’ 1/3 did not actively support either side, some being conscientious objectors. None of these groups were bad or good. They were every-day people who were asked to make some heart-wrenching decisions. It is easy in retrospect to state that the decision was clear-cut. It wasn’t at the time. Each of the groups had very good reasons for making the choices they did.
As much as we protest this fact, history books are subjective writings, usually written by the ‘winning’ side. If the British had won the revolutionary war, our history books would be calling Ezra Abbott, and others, traitors. They were, after all, seriously breaking the laws of the day.
One of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves (other than eating yogurt) is to keep the events of history in perspective. Let’s not re-write the actions of yesterday, or for that matter, the actions of today, so that we can feel morally or politically comfortable about them.