Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hot In The City : The Truth Behind The NYC Draft Riots

When we think of monumental events in the history of New York City, everyone and anyone can name something. Whether it is a historian talking about the fall of Fort Washington or the sinking of the General Slocum, a sports fanatic talking about the Yankees or Knicks, a tourist retelling of the excitement of their big trip to the city, or people talking about the terrorist attacks on 9/11. However, the events that took place in the summer of 1863 are often overshadowed by the national crisis that was taking place. I am talking about an event that destroyed the city from within, an uprising unseen ever since, I am talking at the Draft Riots of 1863.


Ok, before I get into the details of the riots we need to understand why there were riots in the first place. We need to understand the atmosphere that took hold on New York City during the Civil War. We also need to understand the importance of New York City to both the Union and Confederacy. New York City, as it has been in my and my parents lifetimes, has always been the center of the United States and in 1863 that is not any different. What we will examine here is several key factors, Tammany Hall, immigration, slavery, gangs and oh yea that war that was going on, you know the Civil War. 

                                                                 New York Historical Society

So I figure since everyone reading this has seen the The Gangs of New York, I will be starting with the gang element of the riots. Now thanks to Mr. Scorsesse, everyone knows the name the Dead Rabbits. Now the Dead Rabbits were a real gang. However, in the time depicted in the film the actual riot is off by a few years. Scorsesse depiction is not even close to the actual events, but I guess that's Hollywood. Now what he does get right is the gangs involved and their memberships. The gang fight was between the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys. It escalated into an all out riot for two reasons. Tammany Hall was just getting started and the cities government was in shambles. So since the cities organizing body was a wreak, so was the police force, so lack of police presence equals gangs being able to do whatever they want. Now as the two gangs battled it out every other gang in the city joined in trying to become the strongest gang in the city. The state government finally had enough and called in for help. The help did not come from the Federal government like Scorsesse makes it seem. It was just simple state militia and what remained of the New York Police forces. The riot lasted only two days and only eight people were killed, compared to Scorsesse's take which shows and all out war and half the city dead.


Now what caused it? Aside from the complexity of gang relations, another war between political parties also sparked the fight. Like in the film we have Boss Tweed representing the "changing time" or in other words Tammany Hall reeling in Irish (and other immigrants) that were just trying to be American to strengthen their political machine. And his counter part William Cutting, fictional, as a representation of the Know Nothing Party, or more simply the anti immigration guys. Now this related to the gangs because, well their governing officials where basically two gangs also at war. So what happened? Well nothing. The militia came in and settled things down, the political parties kept going after each other and the gangs went back to being gangs and committing the same petty crimes. But this shows us something more. The Dead Rabbit Riot was in 1857, three years before the Civil War. The importance of this is because it shows how New York City was at it's breaking point. It was so do to poor political relations and the influx of immigrants coming. This was all just a build up to the Draft Riots and Scorsesse mixed the two riots together for theatrical affect.


Time to talk politics. It is time to understand how Tammany Hall lead to the Draft Riots and why they are just still only a piece of the pie.Now all the bad things you've ever heard about Tammany Hall, well they are all true, especially under the infamous William "Boss" Tweed." Tweed had his hand dipped into everything. At the height of his power he was the 3rd largest land owner in New York City, on the board of directors of the Eire Railroad, the Tenth National Bank, the Metropolitan Hotel and New York Printing Company. Even politically he was everywhere, he was elected as a Representative, Senator, on the board of Supervisors for the city and pretty much appointed whoever he wanted as other officials inside the city of New York. But this is all after the Draft Riots, but all these parts of Tweeds care stem from those few days in July.


Tweed's control and influence began around 1855. He was not the "Boss" at the time of the Dead Rabbit Riots that would be more true as how he is depicted in Scorsesse's Gangs of New York. However, he did begin to influence the cities politics and he began to tighten his grip around officials in order to be the head cheese. It was during this take over of the city that lead to the collapse of the government and allowed for the rise in gang violence. This was part one of two of Tweed and Tammany Hall's part in the lead to the Draft Riots. Part two deals with immigrants. The issue is that New York City during this time was called the "melting pot of America." Immigrants were pouring into the city. Mostly Irish but large amounts of Poles, Germans, Russians, Welsh, Scots, etc. Now Tammany Hall and Tweed saw these immigrants as votes so they had to take care of them. This then lead to splits in political parties and social tensions to rise in the city. Tweed created city projects to employee the large number of new Americans and allowed them to begin a new and better life then the one they had in the old country. This however, lead to a little discussed situation, the issue of immigrants and slavery, but lets put that on the back burner for a bit. So we can see that Tweed's take over first allowed for the Dead Rabbit Riots and ultimately helped in paving the way for the Draft Riots. Second, Tweeds tactics with the immigrant population caused an issue with the immigrants and slavery, causing them to fear the ending of slavery. The issue with slavery is often one that is over looked since New York City is in the North, or as we are taught the anti slave part of the nation, but it's population wasn't so sharp on ending slavery.

                                                                  National Archive

New York City at the time of Civil War was an interesting place. Tammany Hall was just getting started, the city was recovering from an outburst of gang violence and now was facing the issue of slavery and the Civil War. New York's population and politics both feared the Civil War. The political sphere was split, but the Democratic Tammany Hall was in a way sympathetic to the southern cause. Why you may ask? Well New York City, as it is today, was the financial center of America in 1860. Many, if not all, of the leading Southern business men and businesses banked in New York City. They and their families would summer in the city to get away from the terrible heat the southern portion of our nation faces. So the relation between New York and the south was strictly business, so much so that as southern states left the Union, New York City contemplated seceding and claiming itself "to be a free city." This was it could still be the economic center of the nation and profit from the industrialized north and agricultural south.  So it can be seen that New York City's higher ups were keeping an eye on their investments and relations in the post Civil War America.


Now you might be asking whats up with the minstrels? And why aren't you talking about the immigrant population of New York City? Well I am and the two topics are related. How you probably are asking, well because the immigrant class was just a step above the slaves in America on the social structure ladder of the 19th century. Minstrel shows were a nightly event in New York City up to and even after the Civil War. The theater was packed for every show and the target audience was the working class, which at the time was immigrants. Again, you must be questioning me and again I have an answer. The immigrants were ridiculed for everything about them, ethnicity, national origin, cultural practices, religion, accents and so on. So in the natural reaction which we find in human nature, immigrants then needed to find a way to show they were not the bottom class in America and took aim at the slaves. They did not just do this to make themselves feel better but they did it to hold the status qou. Immigrants knew that if slavery ended the population of freed slaves would be competition for jobs and they'd be a competition they could not beat. They knew freed slaves would do the same work and would be paid less due to, well lets be honest the fact they were black and the sense of racism that gripped the USA after the Civil War. So not only would work be gone but then immigrants would be on the same level as freed slaves and they took like the wealthier anti-abolitionist had a hint of racism to them. So what do we see in the immigrants, it is actually just plain fear. It is a fear that they're coming to America was in vain. The idea that they had faced hardships on arrival and establishing themselves seems ironic when talking about their relation to the Civil War, but that is the benefits of being able to look back at history. Yet we can see once examining it from this angle how this fear would then lead up to the Draft Riots.


So we've discussed the roles of history, politics and immigration. We now can look at the fourth piece of the puzzle, slavery. Slavery had also been a hot subject. Slaves who fought for the Americans in the Revolution were granted freedom. by the turn of the 19th century 1 in 3 blacks living in New York were free. Systems were established in helping the abolition of slavery too, also around the same time. Also the War of 1812 allowed black servicemen to be freed after the war. However, in 1821 a new stat constitution was drafted and ended suffrage for slaves, it also limited the rights of those freed already. Now, another problem with the idea of slavery is that it did exist in New York City and the northern states prior to the Civil War. Slaves were used by the wealthy as house servants and by major industries as cheap and replaceable labor. Now slavery, the use of slave labor and slave/immigrant relations were beginning to boil over. Like I said before, the gang violence in the city, lack of a stable political body, growing immigrant population and now the issues and use of slavery all mixed together for a perfect storm of disaster.

                                                  National Archives

On Monday July 13, 1863 the city finally erupted. The Civil War was fully engaged and losing it's popularity. We all know the Civil War was fought to end slavery...kinda. That is the second reason for the Civil War and the reason that would ultimately cause the Draft Riots. At first, President Lincoln had the responsibility to keep the nation together, check the Constitution. But the war was losing support and along came the Abolitionists and the cause of ending slavery, which became the new cause that kept the north interested in defeating those damn rebels. However, back to the subject at hand. It was that morning that was the breaking point. Congress had passed new laws regarding the draft and only one new way to get out of the draft. The way out? Well if you've taken American History II or at least seen the Gangs of New York you know it would cost $300 American dollars to get out of the draft. Talk about adding fuel to the fire, I mean on top of all the other social, political and cultural issues in the city the war and draft were just the end of civil order for the City of New York.


So did it start? Well that Monday morning Congress orders to hold a draft went into action. New York City citizens, however, were not the first to start rioting. It actually spread from peaceful, sweet, beautiful upstate New York. But the people in the city didn't follow after there upstate brothers, they rioted without even knowing what was going on. Aside from the draft causing problems, people finally put together that Tammany Hall was playing a part in this too. Tammany Hall was registering the immigrants as citizens basically for their votes, but at the same time this automatically entered them into the draft. Now who was at risk of the draft? In short it was the Irish. They were in New York numbering in the thousands and arriving daily. So not being very happy with their current state they and other immigrant labors and anti-war supports started a full scale riot, first attacking a draft station located on 3rd Ave and 47th St.

 Now I know your thinking, where are the police? Well most of New York's police force had joined the New York State Militia and were in Pennsylvania ready to fight the Confederates. Even though there was no police presence, police superintendent John A. Kennedy was on the scene. He let the rioters do their thing and went down to check out the damage and situation a little later. Unfortunately for him he was recognized and beat down by the crowds. After that the police went down to show that they had Kennedy's back and weren't going to let that slide. Again another unfortunate situation, the police were outnumber 10 to 1, ok I made that fact up but they were greatly outnumbered. However, even though outnumbered the police could celebrate a minor victory in that they kept the riots contained and stopped them from spreading south.


So since the rioters were contained that spelled pretty bad news for that area. After a morning of protests and fight police, the rioters found their way to the Bull's Head Hotel. The owners wishing the rioters would leave them refused service, so the rioters burnt the place to the ground. After that the the fire happy rioters burnt down the Mayor's office, two police stations, and several other buildings that, well just stood in their way. The rioters tried to burn down the pro Republican New York Tribune building (again the rioters didn't not want to fight to end slavery as it would lower their status in America) however, the building was protected by Gatling guns, wait why did a newspaper building have Gatling guns...nevermind that is way too out there. So what was next on the destruction tour? Well an armory of course, I mean how else do you keep a riot going? The rioters showed up to the armory on 2nd and 21st but were meet with a strong resistance and ultimately turned away.

                                                            National Archive

This next part shows the ugly side of the riot. If it was just people protesting going to war then we could look back and understand very easily, but this shows the truth behind the riots. African Americans became enemy numero uno for the rioters. Like I have said throughout this essay, immigrants and labors feared free slaves. It would create a competition which they could just not compete with. Another angle was that immigrants and labors were fighting for the freedom of slaves, and were viewed as the cause of the Civil War by many who did not wish to fight in it. The rioters targeted even African American, men, women and children. The rioters took aim at the Colored Orphan Asylum. Luckily for the children inside the police curbed the rioters long enough to get the children and workers out. the second the last one left the door, the rioters light that building up without a second thought. The worst example of the rioters rage was the lynching of 11 African American men in three days. The number of African Americans injured or assaulted in unknown but some estimate it is in the 100s. So what more proof do we need to see that the immigrant population was just as racist as the rest of the nation. I wouldn't want to make the excuse and say, well they feared for their jobs and status (which they did) but for me that seems to easy. I feel this is just another chapter in American and African American History that is overlooked. It is important to focus on this relation between immigrants and slaves as they traveled similar paths in our nation.

                                                                 New York Historical Society

So what else could this crowd possibly do? Well despite the rain that fell Monday night and sent the rioters home, they returned Tuesday morning, still anger and picked up right where they left off. But it was worse, basically the whole city shut down and now all the labors in the city joined in (as they too also had something to lose with the ending of slavery). On Tuesday, the rioters went after the Republicans and Abolitionists. They headed uptown and tore up the wealthier parts of Manhattan. So finally after two days of mayhem Governor Horatio Seymour roles into City Hall and tries to get the crowds to go home. he plays to them like any good politician does and tells them the draft was unconstitutional and he is going to change it. Meanwhile, Seymour is running a cover play and General John E. Wool is marching into the city, and he is rolling deep, he has about 800 Union troops and had recalled the New York State Militia back the night before. So the riot ends right?...Almost, kind of, sorta.


Ok so I lied, but you needed to keep reading to get the end of the story. The riot was knocked down a few pegs come Wednesday with the presence of the Military. There was no crazy fight like Martin Scorsesse portrays, with gangs murdering 100s and the U.S. Navy bombarding New York City. The troops did however use pretty brutal tactics to get the remaining rioters to go home. Colonel James Bryant Fry, the big boss man in charge of the out of control city, called of the draft in order to make people chill out. Wednesday night a peaceful protest took place under the watchful eyes of about several thousand armed troops (both Federal and militia). However, there was one last ditch effort to restart the riot on Thursday night around Gramercy Park. Rioters fought with troops and left 12 people dead in what was basically a battle royal between rioter, troops and police. Yet on Friday morning the riot was completely over and the city began to try to get back to normal.


The total tally of deaths is estimated between 120 to 150 people, not including those 11 African Americans that were lynched. There is an estimation of roughly 2000 people injured, again compared to the Gangs of New York which has the entire population of City of New York injured and at least half of it dead. The destruction left about fifty buildings destroyed, two churches (Protestant) and several homes burnt to the ground. The riot had a price tag of about 5 million dollars worth of damages and losses and that is 5 million in 1863, when 5 million dollars went a long way. Along with the damages many historians, and I myself, agree that this is one of the major victories that the Confederates had and it happened in what was supposed to be the example of the modern and civilized north  and not the backwards slave using south. But as days passed the Civil War continued and the draft was reinstated. In total after the riots and continuation of the draft, only 45000 men were sent to fight the Confederates.


So how about the rest of New York's population. We know that the riots were conducted by the immigrants and working classes, but what was everyone else view on the state of the city and draft. Well the middle and upper classes were split 50/50. Tammany Hall saw the destruction that could be caused so they began programs to employ more workers and other programs to pay the commutation fees to get young men out of the draft (again, gotta keep the voters happy). Other wealthy banks and business men with southern business connections still wished to see New York City not involved in the war. Democrats tried to have the draft declared unconstitutional in order to prevent a repeat of the riot, as the war still had an unseen two years left in it. In the end New York's wealthier classes had their own agenda's and views on the war and the cities involvement. It can be seen that they saw the war through different eyes, mainly because they had the ability to buy their ways and their sons ways out of the draft. Yet it would be these men that would rebuild New York City and eventually the nation.

                                                                                National Archive

The legacy of the riots are truly overshadowed by the service of the men that did find their ways down to Dixie. New York City was, after the riots, still the hub of freedom and source for around 450000 troops. Many were Irish immigrants who proudly and bravely served for their new country. Most famously is perhaps the Fighting 69th, which has a military service originating in 1849 and fighting in some of the Civil Wars major battles. Them and many troops from New York both Federal and militia all saw combat and all made a difference at one point or another. It total only 46000 enlisted men were killed in action. Today there are several sites throughout the city honoring these men and the men who were lucky enough to return home. However, there is not a single marker letting citizens or visitors to New York City know about the Draft Riots or properties and sites involved.

In the end the Civil War is still the bloodiest war in our history. The part New York City played is often and usually overlooked. The relation between immigrants and slavery is also another part of the Civil War that is never truly discussed or taught. I feel that looking back it shows a different view of our nation that we do not like to except. The idea that slavery was accepted in the north and that people would actually fight to keep the institution alive. I tried in this essay not to belittle the struggles of immigrants of the 19th century but to bring to light a party of immigrant history that most American's do not know of. I still find it odd that two groups of Americans who both faced similar paths (I said similar, not parallel or identical) did not find a medium, yet I do see the immigrants side and can understand their fears. However, the post Civil War era started a new time in New York City. It allowed New York City to enter it's Gilded Age and made New York City a modern and state of the art city (for the 19th century) and was the building blocks for future of the great city of New York.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Molly Pitcher vs Nancy Hart, The American Revolution's Badass Heroine Faceoff

Every school year millions of American students learn, to some extent, about the American Revolution. We have all heard about George Washington and his triumphant military victories, about the "shot heard 'round the world" at Lexington and Bunker Hill, the great minds of our Founding Fathers coming together in Philadelphia in creating our nation and so on and so forth. But not everyone is taught about the great women of the time. Sure, we all learn about Abigail Adams and her yelling "don't forget the women" to her husband John. But there are two women that are only taught about regionally and are often forgotten amongst the lesson plans about the Revolutionary War. I'm talking about no other then the legends of Molly Pitcher and Nancy Hart. Two of the heroines which helped the glorious cause of Independence and kicked some serious tail.

Nancy Morgan Hart was born in 1735 in North Carolina. Little is known about Hart's early life and background which makes her exploits during the Revolution seem more exaggerated and folkloric. However disputed, Hart's attitude matched that of a women who was raised on the frontier. Don't let the picture of Hart fool you, she was tough, brutish, short tempered and didn't take any crap. The only description of her states she was tall, red hair and rough hewn.Hell, she survived a case of smallpox in the middle of North Carolina. She was so badass that local Native American tribes nicknamed her "Wahatche," which meant "war woman." She scared Native Americans, that should be enough credentials to have a holiday named after you. But Hart wasn't all rough and tumble. She also was a devoted mother of 8 children. However, she did have her husband, Benjamin Hart, whipped and made him stay at home and raise the kids while she took the role of "man of the house." She was never formally educated but she was frontier smart. She was a skilled agriculturalist and expert hunter and was known for deadly accuracy with a musket.

Now, like her life before the Revolution doesn't cement her as the toughest chick of the 18th century, her actions during the war probably still can scare anyone she would face today. The Hart family decided to move to the frontier in Georgia a few years before the Revolution kicked off and this is when "Aunt Nancy" really earned her stripes as a hard ass. There are a few accounts of Hart's ass kicking achievements. First, and perhaps the most well known, is when she took on six Loyalist soldiers. As the story goes the soldiers came upon the Hart home and demand Nancy cook them a meal, mistake number one. So being quick on her feet she sent her daughter to warn her husband. So Hart cooked the meal and started serving up some booze to this cocky fools. During the meal she began to move the guns outside. Now these guys were getting pretty wasted, mistake number 2, and Hart saw that and knew her time to attack was nearing. So Hart then picks up a gun and basically takes these guys hostage. At first they were all laughing at Hart, think what a crazy woman. So what does Hart do, she blasts the first Tory to make a move for the door. Then another one tried to make a move for a weapon and she blew him away like Dirty Harry. Then she held the surviving four captive, mostly likely because they were scared senseless, until her husband got home. Now her husband gets home and wants to make these guys face the firing squad but Nancy steps in and is like no way this guys have to pay, so she has them hung, that's right she tied the noose herself. Now you might be thinking no way, but it is 100% true. In 1912 a railway being laid a mile from the Hart's cabin revealed six bodies buried in a row. One skeleton had a bullet lodged in it and three had snapped necks and estimated to have been buried there for somewhere around a century. Now if that isn't enough to make her the toughest women ever, I don't know what is...oh wait, yes I do its the next example of Hart's awesomeness. 


 Now if killing six Tories isn't enough to prove Hart's toughness I have another tale of Hart's toughness. Another account of Hart was passed down from her own son. One day as Hart was bringing home a bag of grain a Tory patrol came across her and harassed her. They took away her horse and knocked the bag of grain off and left. So instead of crying over some spilled grain Hart picked it up and walked home carrying what her son said was a bag of grain nearly fifty pounds. Still need more proof of her bad assness? Fine, I got more. Hart was well known for spending time on the Broad River and she wasn't there washing clothes. No, she was waiting on British and Tory patrols and was sniping a few of them off when she was bored. She one time was boiling water and caught a Tory spying on her through a crack in the cabin wall. Hart turns around and basically threw boiling hot water in this nosy bastards face. And then she went outside and hogtied the guy and he was never seen again...ok I made that part up. Hart was also known for dressing in drag and going to local Tory hang outs to see what she could find out. So not only was she off killing Tories, she was out there spying and gathering intel for the higher ups. Its pretty evident that Nancy Hart was bad ass. She did whatever she wanted  in the name of the cause and she helped secure the frontier and keep the Tories in check.

So what happened to Hart? Well after the war she found God and after all the killing and craziness she caused she need to. She sought relief for the sins she felt she committed in the time of war. She was known as a "shouting Christian" and had fought the devil as she had taken on the Tories. After lived out her life in peace and drifted out of the minds of historians studying the Revolution. She spent the last years of her life with family in Kentucky and passed away peacefully.

                                   National Archives

Now Nancy Hart's Yankee counterpart is none other then the first Jersey girl, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley. I know the your all like who? But if you read the title you know that Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley is Molly Pitcher. Little is known about Pitcher and is even thought to be an American mythological creation. But there is evidence of Pitcher's existence, I mean she has to be real she has a rest stop on the Turnpike named after her.

Pitcher was born Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley in  New Jersey, October 13, 1744. She spent her childhood on one of New Jerseys many farms. She worked her butt off and she work so hard a visitor was so impressed Pitcher's parents pimped her out. Pitcher went on to work for Dr. William and Anna Irvine of Carlisle, PA. Now the point of Pitcher going there was because the Irvine's were going to pay the young Pitcher pretty well, and that paycheck would be sent right back to her parent in Jersey. While working in Carlisle Pitcher met William Hays and the two married in 1769. The two lived a quite life in Carlisle for the next few years until, well you know what was going to happen.


Pitcher's military career started with an illustrious bang. Well not really. Pitcher's first taste of war was joining her husband at camp, Valley Forge (1777). She is what was known as a "camp follower." She received no pay and barely enough supplies. Her husband William served as an artilleryman, so naturally during combat Pitcher also served the artillerymen. She would run buckets of water back and forth which were used to cool off the cannons. This action is where the Pitcher nickname comes from, the artillerymen would yell for her "Molly!Pitcher!" every time they needed a refill.

                                                                     National Archives

Now Pitcher really earns her strips as a heroine in 1778. While chasing those damn Redcoats through New Jersey, General Washington decided to hit the British and hit the hard. The Battle of Monmouth was on and it was red hot. The day of the battle it was unbelievably hot (well of 100 degrees for most of the day), which is one reason Washington may have chosen to attack then, we all know those limey Brits can't handle hot weather, I mean England is all cold, foggy and raining all the time. It was so hot more men died that day from heat exposure then actual battle injuries. However, William Hays didn't die. There is evidence of his survival and that the truth is that he was either wounded or a victim of heat exhaustion. So instead of freaking out or caring for her husband, what does Pitcher do? She picks up a ramrod and yells at the other artillery men to load the cannon.


Pitcher didn't know squat about military tactics and definitely wasn't made aware of the importance of the cannons locations. However, she did know killing Redcoats was important and she had the biggest gun on the field and used it to it's full potential. She blasted away at British Regulars all day like a pro. At one point the British were like, enough of this chick and started firing at her. As the story goes a shot went right between Pitcher's legs putting a hole in her dress. Again, not being a sissy girlie girl she simple shrugged it off and said "Well that could have been worse." Can someone say bad ass? I mean I never have been shot at but if I ever am I high doubt that will be my reaction. News of Pitcher's actions reached Washington. He was so impressed he gave her a field commission as a non commissioned officer. The George Washington, America's original hero, gave Molly Pitcher props. That would be like today is Obama read my blog, found me and gave me a high five...ok maybe it isn't the same but you got where I was going with that. The news of Pitcher's actions during the battle and Washington's acknowledgement gave Pitcher the nickname "Sergent Molly," a nickname that stuck for the rest of her life. No longer was Pitcher just a water girl but a certifiable war hero.

After the war Pitcher and her husband returned home. They returned to their normal lives and started a family. Unfortunately,  William passed away and Pitcher remarried. She married a fellow veteran John McCauley. However, it is reported the marriage was never a success and could be compared to Sammi and Ronnie from the Jersey Shore. (that's right I just connected Molly Pitcher to the Jersey Shore) It was well known that Mr. McCauley was a tool and didn't have much respect for Pitcher. He mysteriously disappeared in 1810, and by disappeared I willing to bet that Pitcher killed him. Pitcher also had a reputation for having quite the potty mouth. So what are Pitcher's street creds for being a bad ass? Well, war hero (check), props form George Washington (check), mysteriously missing husband (check), and finally curses like a sailor (double check). So it can be seen that Pitcher held her own and didn't take to traditional roles of a women in the 18th century cementing her as one tough chick.


So what became of Pitcher. She lived out her days in Carlisle working as a maid. In 1822 the government finally recognized her awesomeness and sent her the pension she deserved. She died in 1832 and was buried in Carlisle. Pitcher's actions were so bad ass that another women was also later given the nickname of Molly Pitcher. Margarat Corbin basically lived the same life Pitcher did. Except, Corbin's battle didn't turn out so well. She took her husbands place defending Fort Washington as the British took over Manhattan. Corbin's action equally Pitchers, however, when George Washington hooks you up with a field commission history will remember you first and you get a monument that rivals the great generals of the Revolution.

So when looking at Hart and Pitcher what do we have? We have "girl power," the 18th century Spice Girls. Now I ask why are they always over looked? I am pretty sure the History Chanel can find to between Ice Road Truckers and Pawn Stars to actually show a historical documentary about these two fine ladies. And while we are on the subject, I am pretty sure we can also find a way to add the to history classes and give young girls an example of strong women who did what needed to be done, except looking to the cast of 16 And Pregnant. Bottom line is these two heroines need to have their stories retold and need it fast. I am 90% sure if I asked any female student to name a woman from the Revolutionary War I'd just get a confused look. In the end I just wanted to write and share these two women's stories with the hopes of you, my faithful audience sharing their stories.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What? The Rockerfeller Family Did What? No Way!

So it was just another Sunday on Ellis Island, tourist coming and going, families interested in searching their ancestry, Park Rangers giving tours, tourist wandering around and me awaiting someone to ask for my assistance in searching through the ship manifests in order to find their great grandparents entry into America. It was then that a woman and her two Greek companions asked me to help them in a search they called impossible.

It started out like any normal session. General introduction stuff, basic background on the person and then they dropped the bomb on me. The family explained to me that they were in search of the immigration records for a Elias Spantidakis. Now the name did not jump out at me but the events he was a part of sure did. They explains that Elias Spantidakis was the first person killed at the Ludlow Massacre. It was at this point that I figured they were crazy. But we searched and searched and they persisted of the man immigrated through Ellis Island. I know the trouble with searching for Greek names so I tried every possible spelling, partial spelling searches, everything and anything. The result, nothing.

Why you may be asking, especially since I didn't believe them, well I was intrigued, that's why. And they were so sure of themselves and had the proof to back it up. The proof you may ask was letter written by the man himself. In his letter's described his entrance to America and the finding of work and the large Greek communities out in Colorado. He also told a story of a gentlemen he traveled to America with. So since they were there I figured what the hell and looked up that name. Again, no results but they were not deterred. They actually told me why there is no records of either man, the Rockefeller Family. That's right, they are convinced that the Rockefeller's had the record destroyed. But before we get into that let me explain a little more about Mr. Spantidakis.


The family explained the me that Elias Spantidakes headed out west and like most immigrants wanted to became an American. So, Spantidakes applied for citizenship and gave himself a more American name, Louis Tikas. He began the application process in 1910. Tikas did not approve of the way his fellow miners were being treated so he joined the labor union in protest of the poor treatment of the mining community. So like any Union they elected officials and drafted a list of rights. And this requests where really nothing out of the ordinary, basic union stuff. (Bargaining rights, 8 hour work day, crud health insurance, you know stuff the right wing conservative people hate) So along with this Tikas was elected to be the spokesman for his camp, Ludlow.

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Now what happened next? Well talks didn't go so well. According to the family of Tikas, the Rockefeller's called in the Colorado Militia in order to put down the start up of the Unions. Now this is were the family gets off the path of truth. The way the Rockefeller's are related to the whole Ludlow and Colorado mining scene is, well they owned the mines and made a crazy amount of money off the production of the mines. The Colorado Militia was called in by Governor Elias M. Ammons. He made the call because the Union protests were beginning to get ugly. Protestors attacked "scabs" and anyone else opposed to the strike so the use of militia was a necessary step. Now the question is, did the Ammon's make the call for the general safety of the citizens of Colorado or was there another motive? Could the Rockefeller family have that much pull? Could they influence Ammon to the point to call in the militia to put down the strike? I am going to just say it, yes.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. was the head of the Rockefeller juggernaut in the 1910s. The Rockefeller company, Colorado Fuel and Iron was company being protested. Now you may recall I said I believe the the Rockefeller had something to do with the massacre and here is why. The Rockefeller family owned 40% of CFI. I can see Rockefeller Jr. having some influence of Ammons. I do not believe that John Rockefeller Jr. personally called up militia leaders and paid them directly to shut down the strikes. However, I can see Rockefeller Jr. calling Ammons and putting the screws to him. I can see him, like any major industrial giant, making threats, which he could back up and causing a fear to rise in Ammons to go along with the wishes of Rockefeller Jr. Now, Tikas's family is not the first to think this and neither am I to agree with them. After the massacre there was an inquire, but before we get into that let me paint the picture of what happened at Ludlow. 

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The day of April 20th was just like any other day in 1914. The strikers were waking up after their Easter celebration (Greek Eastern Orthodox) but were met by militia requesting the release of a man being held after the strikers protested. Tikas was the head of the camp were the man was being held so it was his duty to negotiate. During the talks the militia set up and prepare for an attack on the camp. Tikas becoming aware of the oncoming attack fled the militia camp in an attempt to warn his people (according to his family). As Tikas rode off he was shot in the back and then later finished off by being smashed in the head with the butt of a militiaman's rifle (again, according to Tikas' family). Now evidence of this is clear, however, Tikas was seen inside the Ludlow camp in helping defend the women and children there. At the end of the day 20 people lay dead men, women and children all at the hands of the Colorado Militia under the orders of Governor Ammons and perhaps by the influence of John D. Rockefeller Jr.

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 After the massacre, Colorado's working class was outraged. Labor Unions called for all workers to be armed and encouraged strikes and attacks on anyone opposed to the unionizing cause. As things began to get even worse President Woodrow Wilson had enough and sent in the United States Army. At their arrival both sides were disarmed, Governor Ammons lost power over the state and Colorado and the Army received direct orders from Washington D.C. The next step was an inquire by the Commission on Industry Relations. The Commission focused on four strikes including Ludlow. A journalist by the name of Walter Lippman. Lippman believed that there was a constant battle between liberty and democracy in the modern world and that through critical thinking and progressive programs the two ideas could be bridged and coexist. However, Lippman's importance in the Ludlow Commission comes from his report on Chairman Frank Walsh's chasing after Rockefeller. Walsh knocked Rockefeller Jr. for several days and had dragged the Rockefeller name through the mud, because like Tikas's family and myself, they to felt that John Rockefeller was responsible for not only Tikas death but all the others killed at the Ludlow camp. At the end of the Commission two theories were created. First, one that stated a labor board should be created because conflict between labor and management was going to happen again. Second, which is Walsh's states, was a call for what he called "industrial democracy." Walsh felt the state of labor in the United States resembled feudalistic societies. It warned of a growing millionaire class that would soon take advantage of the masses (wait someone was worried about this in the 1910s? And now today...wait this rant is for another time). In the end it can be seen that there was no real conclusion on what to do about labor and rights. These 20 people who died at Ludlow died in vain for the cause of equality. It is evident that the Commission, although had good intentions, was pretty much pointless and a show piece to curb the angry of the working class, Unions and non Union workers. But more important to my argument, the Commission even believed Rockefeller Jr. did have a hand in the massacre and more important than that Rockefeller Jr. refused to answer any questions about 

So what was the point? Well oddly enough, and perhaps can be viewed with some suspicion, the first person to make any changes in labor relations was John D. Rockefeller Jr. The Rockefeller's then took great steps in rebuilding labor relations. They made improvements in their company towns. Also made strides in maintaining better working conditions for employees. It was the beginning of the Rockefeller name that is so well respected today. The Rockefellers we all know and love today, the family that has that place in New York City that everyone loves to visit around Christmas, the family that donated millions to social causes and betterment of American society. Well, sad to say all that good came out of the horror of the Ludlow massacre. I think we can agree that this twist in the Rockefeller family comes from that day in Colorado, a family so wealthy and so willing to make a profit they would kill immigrants, people just looking to start a new life in America and try to attain that illusive "American Dream." After the Commission and attacks by Walsh you can see how this family would aim to become a hero of the people and leave it's dark choices in the past.


By now I hope you have taken away something about the Ludlow Massacre and the events surrounding it. But now by the picture of Ellis Island you may be asking, Mike where are you going with this? When I sat down with Louis Tikas's family they explained to me that John D. Rockefeller Jr. called for the murder at Ludlow. Now I've pretty much established my belief in that in the previous part of the essay but now for even more conspiracy. The family believes that Rockefeller Jr. had Tikas's immigration record destroyed. Now everyday I have the privilege of search records from 1892 to 1924. Now these records have been scanned and digitized but where are the originals? Well thanks to the Nazis and WWII the immigration records prior to 1940 no longer exist except on microfilm. Now way am I blaming the Nazis? Because thanks to them the U.S. had to scrape, save and reuse everything, including immigration records which were bleached and the recycled. Like I said in the beginning I spent a good part of my day searching the records for the name Elias Spantidakis and got nowhere, Louis Tikas also nowhere and every possible combination all dead ends. So the question could Rockefeller Jr. be so powerful as to have the immigration record destroyed to make Tikas look like an illegal immigrant? Or could it be that the record was never put on microfilm and lost forever to time? I feel that the Rockefeller family did have the power to expunge the record but I do also believe in clerical errors. In short the record is gone forever and only left to each of our own conclusions on what really happened.


In the end the Ludlow Massacre is another piece of forgotten American History. It was a time of struggle by the working class in order to better not only their lives but the future of the working class. It was men and women who came to the United States trying to start a new life and help in the building of America. John D. Rockefeller Jr. may be the forgotten bad guy in this scenario due to his contributions after the event. But when  talking about horrific events in our nations history Ludlow is often if not always overlooked. It is up to the surviving family members of those there, like the family of Elias Spantidakis, to pass on the story to the next generation and to the historians who search for the truth of what happened. I wrote this piece because the story captivated me. It touched a part of me that fears not knowing the truth about my family history. It is unfortunate that something like this happened in our history and could have been perpetrated by one of America's most beloved families. It is truly an event that may never have a solid answer and case in American History that is never examined and left in the past. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Benedict Aronld, Enough with the Traitor Tag

Benedict Arnold, a name that just makes American's scream traitor. Arnold may be perhaps the most dastardly character in American history to date. But I figure since this is my first blog I might as well start out with a bang and defend the great patriot that Arnold was. (That's right I called him a patriot.) When I was still in college I was part of the Fairleigh Dickinson History Club, I know I should have warned you I am a dork but here you are reading a history blog, but I defended Arnold then and I will do it again now. Besides I think as Americans, it is time to let bygones be bygones in the case of Benedict Arnold. He has endured over 200 hundred years of bad mouthing and having a crappy breakfast dish named after him. I say enough and no more, it is about time someone took a stand for Benedict and mentioned the good things and the insignificance of  his "treasonous" deed.
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 Before explaining Arnold's great contributions to the birth of America, both militarily and economically, we must examine Arnold's life a little more deeply then we ever learned in our grammar school history classes. Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut to parents who, well were wealthy. Arnold's father, Benedict Arnold III, was a merchant who had great success and moved his family up the social class ladder of colonial Norwich. Arnold's mother, Hannah Waterman King, also came from a wealthy family which only helped the the Arnold status. Yet the fact of Arnold's family wealth can be put on the side for the moment. Arnold was educated at in a private school but before being able to continue his education death's in the family forced young Benedict to return home and hold together the family business. However, Arnold would not have much time to master the family business as just around the corner the French and Indian War was waiting.

Now Arnold didn't head out into Indian Territories west of the Appalachians and start busting enemy French and Natives skulls. He was yet a mere teenager, 16, as he joined his local militia and was prepared to start taking down some Frenchies and Savages (terminology of the times people not my opinion.). Yet to the young Arnold was in for the shock of a lifetime, which actually would later mold a decision in which would give him the bad rep he's had since that faithful day in 1779.

At the time of Arnold's arrival at Fort William Henry the stories awaiting would basically make anyone hate the French. The short of it is that Fort William Henry was garrisoned by roughly 2500 British troops. Unfortunately for them the French and Indian forces numbered upwards of around 8000 combined. The French lead forces bombard the fort for about a week and finally due to deaths, injuries and lack of supplies the Brits finally gave up the fort. It was the next set of events that would lead Arnold to hating the French to the point he turned on his beloved nation and cause.Yet again something that must be remembered for a later time.

Now it was not the siege of the fort yet the massacre which occurred after. First, it was the French's allowance of their Indian allies to plunder the fort. The problem wasn't that they were enjoying the spoils of war but that they killed all the wounded and sick that did not evacuate the fort with the whole of the British garrison. It did not stop there, as the British were given "aid" by the French at Fort Edward, the British had no idea what awaited them in the morning. The French allowed for the British to surrender with honor and allowed them to keep their weapons (with no ammunition) and return to the British controlled colonies under French guard. However, the French fell way short on this deal. As the column of British soldiers, women and children left Fort Edward French protection fell apart and the British were open targets for the Indian allies. The Indians then again killed all the wounded and sick outside Fort Edward but did not stop there. They then focused on the main group of British fleeing the area. At the end of the day the Indians left some 190 dead. The story of the savagery endured by the British reached all the colonist but it hit Arnold harder then most. Perhaps it did influence him to his young age or even because he saw and heard some of the victims stories but Arnold never viewed the French the same again.


Now you may be asking, "what did Arnold think of the French?" and if you are then you're in luck because I am about to tell you and if you're not then go back and reread the previous few paragraphs. After the events at Fort William Henry, Arnold decided he had enough of the French. He now felt the French were no longer trustable, today, tomorrow, in 10 years, never again in the existence of a French nation could they ever be trusted. Now for the why, it is three reasons, first for the dishonorable treatment towards British POWs, second, a failure to honor the surrender agreement and third, the French knew that the Indians would attack at the first opening, honestly if their was anyone who hated the British more then the French it pretty much would have to be the Native American tribes. It is for these reason that from that day on the Arnold saw the French as a virus that plagued the earth and that any association with them would be TREASONOUS.

 So lets fast forward a few years from the French and Indian War and surprise surprise I am talking about the American Revolution. Again, we can discuss something that almost none of us are taught about Arnold and that is contributions to the American Cause. First, as a business man living in the colonies Arnold opposed all the Acts imposed by the British on the colonists. He was an active member in The Sons of Liberty and finally was very outspoken about the wrongs in British rule in the colonies. With his credentials solidified Arnold was made a General in Continental Army. Arnold's first major achievement would be the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. The capture of the fort was of great military and strategical importance. Militarily it was a huge boost for the Continental Army since it was one of the first victories for the Americans. Secondly, it was quite amazing that Arnold planned and lead the attack and captured the fort without one shot being fired. It was a strategical victory because it gave the Americans control of Lake Champlain but more importantly it gave them weapons. Those weapons were then taken to Boston where and when George Washington used them to drive out the Brits from city which our independence sprang from. Now usually we don't learn that because Arnold's credit go to a guy a furniture store is named after Ethan Allen.

After Arnold's success at Fort Ticonderoga he was given the mission of invading Canada. Arnold lead a secondary force and commanded around 1100 men. During the siege Arnold received two promotions from George Washington himself, people George Washington promoted this guy. Then to top it off Arnold was wounded and kept fight the British. After the eventual take over of Quebec Arnold was sent to regroup the American forces and prepared the troops for movements against the British. From there Arnold racked up three more wins for the Americans, the Battle of Valcour Island, Ridgefield and Fort Stanwix. All the strategies drafted by Arnold and he executed the moves right there on the field with his men. In the midst of Arnold win streak he was given his next big task and perhaps the task which turned the war in the Americans favor.

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The Battle of Saratoga, or as I like to call it, "the reason America is a free nation and not still a colony of England all thanks to Benedict Arnold's military genius and balls of steel." Ok so my description still isn't really excepted by other historians but it has a nice ring to it. It was at the battle that again, Arnold got some props from G.W. when he called him "the most aggressive of all my commanders." Basically what Washington said was this guy is awesome and without him and his bravery we would have lost the Battle of Saratoga and then lost the War for Independence. Again it was another battle plan drawn up by Arnold and even when that plan looked like it was going to fall apart, Arnold then rallied the troops and on the fly figured out how to stop the British from flanking them. He even believed the idea so much that he lead the charge to stop the British. he even kept fighting with a broken leg. Most of us reading this would probably take off work for 6 weeks and then use our vacation pay to take off an extra week. But instead of being honored and revered as a great military genius the whole credit for the victory was given to Horatio Gates. Now nothing against Gates but com'on he didn't  stand on the lines with his men, he didn't fight the British with a broken leg due to a musket ball going in one end and out the other. Arnold screwed again, no credit then and forgotten by us today.

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 So after Saratoga Arnold partied like it was 1779, mainly because of his success and the turning of the tide in favor of the Americans. But the Americans couldn't do it on their own and the leaders of our slowly developing nation sought help from abroad. now they had plenty of choice, I mean they looked to Europe and basically everyone hated the British. First, I'd like to offer the Dutch option, still a significant naval power and was even known by the British. The British actually feared the Dutch Navy so much that then attacked the Dutch in 1780 in order to stop them from helping the Americans. Second, the Spanish. Now why the Spanish, well because the Enlightenment ideas sparked the Spanish people the same way it touched American colonists. They also supplied the Americans with weapons before France showed an interest in the American cause. They also had a much larger ground force then the French and the Spanish eventually attacked the British strongholds in Florida after the Revolution. Finally, I can offer the Russians. Before they were our sworn Commi enemies they could have been our BFFs. The Russians at the time had one thing going for them, they were armed and crazy. Their military and navy was something no one knew about, almost like a mysterious force that had a potential to destroy the world...twice. But the Americans didn't look to these nation for help, they looked toward the French.

The French option may have been their best option, as history has shown us, but they did not think of the affect it would have on the colonists. Colonists knew the French were just as imperialistic as the British and could just as easily colonize the American nation as soon as the British were defeated. Also the French did not share the same ideas as America, the ideas of Liberty were still a few years away from France, as during the Revolution they were still under the control of a monarch. Let us also not forget the French and Indian War which showed the brutality of the French military of their new found allies. One man who did not forget this was Benedict Arnold.

  Now you may be saying to yourself, "Mike you must be crazy." But I am not and I can prove it. Arnold was willing to give up West Point to the British. Yes, it was wrong but would it have changed the war? I say no. I bet right now your asking, how? Well let me explain. West Point had one thing going for it and that was it chain defense system. Basically it was chains and sunken barges that were supposed to stop the British Navy from sailing through the Hudson River into Lake Champlain and further north. It is here that I can disprove the value of these chain defenses. First, the Americans lacked a navy and had nothing more then a few privateers working for them. Second, the British controlled New York Harbor. They had such a control of it even the great saving French Navy did not dare to attack New York. Third, there are three examples of the systems failures. First, at Fort Washington. The chain defensive between Fort Washington (NYC) and Fort Lee (NJ) was sailed passed several times and Fort Washington was evacuated before the British Navy could cut off an escape route. Second was at Pollepel Island, this lead to the British burning Kingston, NY to the ground just to show they could do what they want. Finally there was the system set at Fort Montgomery which was just laughed at by the British as the sailed past all the American defenses and took the fort in less then a few hours. The last stop on the British Navy's tour of destroying the American defenses was West Point. As seen in the previous examples the British would have just rolled right in smacked the Americans around and took it anyways.


Now looking at this I can even argue that Arnold surrendering West Point as a good thing. Yes, he could have handed it over to the British but would we be able to call him a traitor? Or would it look like he just surrendered? Either way Arnold would have saved American lives. He could have by allowing them to escape, which I believe he would, or in worst case scenario they would be take as POWs. Still the men would have not faced the horrors of a battle they could not win. It is also possible to argue Arnold gave up West Point because he knew it lacked strategic value and the the try value laid in the forts further up river and on Lake Champlain. Yet it is quite obvious that Arnold, like other Americans, were worried about French involvement on the American continent.

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 Now in the words of my favorite history professor, I'd like to put a wrap on this. Benedict Arnold has suffered long enough. It the scope of history Arnold's plan can be seen as a failure. So can a failure at being a trader still make you a trader? I say know I say Arnold felt he was doing the right thing. He loved his nation so much he was unwilling to see it tainted by the French.  He saw the horrors that the French were capable of and refused to be associated with it. It would be the same way on a playground, no one wants to side with the bully and that is who France was. Today is the day I say we look to Arnold's achievements as an American and reinstate him as an American hero. It is time we add his name to the Boot Monument at the Saratoga Battlefield. Let Americans know of the greatness this man supplied our nation, the bravery of a man who fought in battles wounded, the courage of a man who stood up for what he believed in. Benedict Arnold a man misunderstood and hero which we need to honor and betray no more.