Sunday, December 9, 2012

The" Bear Jew" is Based on a Real Person!?

Ok, so maybe Sergeant Sonny Donnowitz wasn't a real person, but there was someone tougher and more battle hardened than the "Bear Jew." His name was Sam Dreben and he was a complete bad ass. Completely fearless and commanded respect from everyone around him. Known as the "Fighting Jew" Dreben fought in several different and unrelated theaters of battle on every continent except Africa. But why? Was it because he was a dare devil? Loved the thrill of war? Or perhaps just had a death wish? I think it is more than that, something maybe from his childhood that made him always want to fight the good fight, maybe he just had a sense a duty which has since fell by the way side.

Sam Dreben was born June 1, 1878 in Poltava Russia, present day Ukraine. Born to Jewish parents Sam's future in Russia was not promising. Knowing this he made two attempts at running away, the furthest he ever made it was Germany. At 18, he made his way to London, hung out for a bit and then made his way to the states by the winter of 1899. By that summer Dreben had enlisted in the U.S. Army and was being shipped to the Philippines with the 14th Infantry Regiment. The mission, restore and keep order in the new acquired land. The rebellion was led by Emilio Aguinaldo who wanted the United States out of the Philippines. There Dreben fought amongst some of America's greatest military heroes, Teddy Roosevelt, Arthur MacArthur and John Pershing. In the end the, the American forces suppressed the rebellion, officially making the Philippines a territory of the United States. Yet that was Dreben's first taste of battle and I guess he liked it because this would be the beginning of an illustrious military career.

After seeing action in the Philippines, Dreben was sent to Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion. There he was part of a protection detail for American business interests in the area. While there Dreben was released from military service. Working odd jobs and finding everyday life a little dull, he looked to enlist with a Japanese recruiter to fight in the Russo-Japanese War, but was called back to Fort Bliss in Texas, in 1904. There Dreben would train with the newest and latest piece of military equipment, the machine gun. Dreben took  the machine gun like a duck to water. He remained in Fort Bliss until 1907 when he was released from service for a second time. Looking for work he made his way to the Panama Canal Zone. Unable to get anything going, Dreben's reputation as a tough guy landed him several gigs fighting with several revolutionary causes. Mainly through Central America, he fought in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. In Guatemala, Dreben received a million dollar wound, he was shot in the buttocks. Oddly enough that would be the only time he was wounded in combat.

Dreben would eventually make his way back to the states and re-enlist back into the army. His next major action was when he took part in the Punitive Expedition (1916). The Expedition goal was to go into Mexico and capture (or kill) Pancho Villa for a raid he orchestrated in New Mexico. This would not be the first time Dreben would be involved with Villa. Prior to the Expedition, Dreben and Villa worked together in Mexico. They spent several months in Mexico looking for Villa but the search was fruitless.  Then in 1917 with the U.S.'s entry into WWI, you could bet Dreben was one of the first in line to sign up. He enlisted with the 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division. Before leaving Dreben took a wife, Helen Spence and started a family. Sadly as Dreben was leaving for France, news reached him of the passing of his daughter. It is unknown how Dreben reacted to the news, but he continued on to France.

When in France, Derben continued to do what he did best, kick some serious tail. He took part in the battle of St. Etienne (1918). He served under General Jack Perishing and he was held in his highest regards. By the end of the war Dreben went home with some serious hardware, and left a bunch of Krauts crying for their mutters. Aside from the miles of street cred he continued to grow, he was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire. After the war Dreben was looking to get some R&R. He did have to deal with a cheating wife, which he then divorced. However, aside from the marital issue, Dreben ran a successful insurance business in El Paso, Texas. But just when life seemed to slow down a bit, Dreben's achievements called him back into action. In 1921, Dreben and several other men were deputized by the El Paso P.D. to illegally extradite a prisoner from Juarez, Mexico. The plan ran a rye and Dreben and his merry men were arrested by Mexican authorities, only to be released three days later after Uncle Sam flexed a diplomatic little muscle. After the spat in Mexico, Dreben remarried and moved to California for a new start. Then in 1925 Dreben tragically died from an accidental dose of medicine. As news of his death spread all the major newspapers ran articles honoring the hero.

Sam Dreben is a true American hero. A man who symbolizes heroism with every bone in his body. His service to his county was never forced and always selfless. He built a reputation as a tough guy and his bravery was world renowned. Today we would call men like Dreben, soldiers of fortune, a gun for hire or even a mercenary. But Dreben is a unique character and exemplifies that sense of adventure not really seen anymore.You can see that perhaps Dreben could have been an inspiration not just for Sergeant Sonny Donnowitz character, but for all the characters in Inglorious Bastards. But what does that say about Dreben? The characters in that film are larger than life, and so was Dreben. Today, Dreben is still on of the most unknown people in military history. The man from Russia, whose mother had hopes he'd become a rabbi, is one toughest men to ever step onto a battlefield. Whether it on a field in France, a dock in Beijing or a jungle in Honduras, Dreben never shied away from the service for others.Today, Sam Dreben should be up there with our other military heroes and in equal or great standings. An American hero through and through, but is slowing becoming another casualty to History and his achievements only belonging to the ages.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Charles Lee: Beyond Assassin's Creed III

The name Charles Lee hasn't meant much to people until recently. The reason for Lee's resurgence is due to the release of the latest version of the Assassin's Creed video game series. The latest version is set during the American Revolution with  the people and events of the era. From George Washington to Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson to Paul Revere and of course, Charles Lee. In the game Lee is the ultimate bad guy and is portrayed as pure evil, but how true is this? And why make Lee the antagonist of the game? There were plenty of other figures that could have been chosen, anyone of the Redcoats would have been fine, or even Benedict Arnold, but it was Lee. So how could it be that the most experienced man in the Revolution fall by the way side of our collective view of the Revolution and become a now infamous video game villain?

So in Assassin's Creed III, Charles Lee is part of a secret group, the Templars (Go figure). They are set on ensuring that the world order is kept and the Templars influence and power are kept intact. Which in their view is to build America as a Templar nation, but that is not really important for this piece. The game goes as far as implicating Lee in orchestrating the Boston Massacre. But aside from the farfetchedness of the Templars and the manipulation of the Boston Massacre, the story of Lee becomes quite on spot. His disdain for George Washington, his poor military practices and the fact he was a drunk. But to understand who and what Lee did, lets first look at were he comes from, because as you may know the past always plays a part in the present, well the then get what I mean.

Lee was born in Cheshire, England in the winter of 1732. Born into a military family, his father was Colonel John Lee in the Royal Majesty's Army, Lee was destined to be a major military figure. He was educated at on of the finest schools in Switzerland and returned to England in 1746 to continue his education. That same year his father placed young Charles in the service, under his command, as an ensign. Lee's history is pretty average, well educated and focused on self advancement, especially through the military. In 1751, Lee purchased a Lieutenant's commission and saw action in the French & Indian War. While in the colonies, Lee married a Mohawk Indian woman and father twins. Lee had a reputation for having a short fuse, and was dubbed Ounewaterika, by the natives which translates to "Boiling Water". He continued to be active in the war until its end, the attack at Louisbourg (1758), he was wounded at the assault on Fort Ticonderoga (1758), participated in the capture of Fort Niagara (1759) and Fort Montreal (1760) and up until the British conquered Canada in the fall of 1760. After his service in the colonies, Lee also fought for the Portuguese and the Polish. He returned to England in 1763 and found himself very sympathetic to the American cause. He was so much interested in it he moved in 1773, to Virginia and built his estate, Prato Rio (which is today in present day West Virginia).  It is in the colonies then, that Lee's selfishness, self entitlement or just plan want for glory would then destroy what was supposed to be a legacy which would be everlasting with the other military leaders of the Continental Army.

Charles Lee reported to the Continental Congress on several occasions, which is partially portrayed in the game. There, Lee awaited to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, but waiting is all he could do. He was very vocal about his feelings towards Washington, but they fell on death ears. Lee was overlooked for a few reasons: first he was English born, second, he was a bit of a drunk and vulgar (despite his educational background, remember you can't teach manners) and finally he wanted to be paid for his service. These combined made Congress pick Washington, who basically was the complete opposite of Lee, American born, not a fall down drunk and willing to work for free. Regardless, Lee was made second in command, Major General. Lee's first major role in the war was protecting Charleston, South Carolina. There he saw the construction of Fort Sullivan on Sullivan;s Island. Here Lee would make his first military blunder. Seeing the advancing British Naval forces he ordered the fort evacuated, leaving the city undefended. Lucky, Governor John Rutledge knew the strength not just of the South Carolinian people but of the palmetto logs which the fort was made from. The fort withstood the assault and forced to retreat and reconsider their strategy in taking Charleston. After this Lee was recalled by Washington to New York to prepare the city's defense. 

Upon arriving in New York in 1776, Washington made an attempt at showing Lee that he was respected and an important part of the Continental Army. He did so by rename Fort Constitution, which is located on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, Fort Lee. Unfortunately for Washington Lee was not pleased. The renaming of the fort made him despise Washington even more. He began to be even more vocal to Congress about his personal opinions of Washington and more often as well. Lee even went as far as trying to sabotage Washington during his retreat across New Jersey by purposefully taking his time moving his troops west. The disdain for Washington has been quite evident, so evident that the writers of Assassin's Creed felt it fitting to link Lee to Thomas Hickey. Whose Thomas Hickey you ask? He was one of Washington's guards who plotted to assassinate Washington. He was later tried and hung. But in the game it is Lee who is the mastermind behind the plot and then tried to pin the blame on the main character, Conner. But back to the reality of Lee. Because of his lack luster support of Washington, Lee left himself in a compromised position during the winter of '76. While stopping for the night at White's Tavern in Basking Ridge,NJ Lee was found out and arrested by a British patrol. He was given back to the Continental Army in a prisoner exchange due to his high military value. But Lee's biggest act of defiance towards Washington and ultimatelywhat destroyed his career would happen in the summer of 1778.

At the Battle of Monmouth Lee was reluctantly placed as second in command. There Lee deliberately disobeyed Washington's orders to attack by retreating. Too bad for Lee he retreated right into Washington was heading right to the battlefield. Washington was enraged beyond human capability, then to make matters worse, Lee disrespected Washington in front of all those in Washington's force. Washington then publicly stripped Lee of command & rank, had him arrested in the mist of the battle and had him court martialed. Lee tried to have the court martial overturned but it was in vain. After his failure to clear his military name, he then went back on the attack against Washington. Lee was quickly becoming a lesser and lesser like character in America. He was so hated many Americans wanted a piece of him. Colonel John Laurens challenged Lee to a duel, a duel which Lee was wounded in. And that was not the last duel, Lee was challenged to roughly 50 some odd duels after his dishonorable exit from military life. By 1780 Lee had faded from the public spotlight and recent memory of the newly forming American nation. he back ill in January of 1780 and died in his Philadelphia home.

So what did we learn about Charles Lee? He was a selfish bastard who couldn't handle be second in command. The man wanted to be the Commander-in-Chief so badly he found it necessary to sabotage Washington at every chance he could. But what do we learn from Lee? Mainly that being a whinny baby gets you no where for 232 years until someone writes a historical based fictional video game. And to top it off you become the villain of the story. Lee's legacy is this, a man who was driven by anger, by frustration from a choice made by others and that through acts of dishonor he caused his own self destruction. There are many heroes and villains from the founding of America, Lee is neither. He has been a footnote to the Revolution, mainly through the faults of his own. His yearning for being in charge went as far as becoming a traitor. After he was captured in New Jersey, Lee drafted military plans against American forces for General William Howe. They were discovered in 1857 in the Howe family archives and many historians believe this may have been the root of Lee's complete disregard for Washington's orders at the Battle of Monmouth. Yet today Lee is not remembered for his negative actions but as a fictional character. A Templar, who hates freedom and democracy, whose only goal in life is to ensure that the world ends in got to play the game to get that one, sorry. But Charles Lee had his chance to be a true American hero. One who would be as revered as Washington, Greene, Putnam, Lafayette and von Steuben are for their military actions but no, Lee caused his own self implosion and put himself on the express track to becoming a complete loss of historical value.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Eerie Origins of "Taps"

"Taps" is perhaps the most famous musical piece related to the military. For anyone who has been to a funeral where military honors are given or for anyone whose seen a movie with a funeral scene, knows the significance of the song. It is a bitter sweet tune that can cover a wide range of emotions. You may feel a sense of lose, reverence, closure, etc, but one thing that hardly crosses your mind is where that song actually came from. The story of "Taps" has a sad origin that may be even more of a tearjerker than the notes themselves.

Like most pieces of modern Americana, "Taps" finds its origins from the Civil War. The Battle of Malvern Hill took place in Henrico County, Virginia in July of 1862. It was in the ending days of the Peninsula Campaign, and as we all know that was chalked up as a W in the Unions favor. But it was during this battle that the story of "Taps" was born. Now, it is worth noting that the origin of "Taps" is still somewhat debated, however this is the most interesting origin of the tune and "Taps" was not made the official song of military funerals until 1891, about 30 years after the Battle of Malvern Hill was over.

The Civil War is best described as a war amongst brothers, both in literal and figurative meaning.  However, it did not end with siblings, it also pitted fathers against sons as well. That is were the Ellicombe family comes into the picture. According to legend, Captain Robert Ellicombe was a Union Captain and partook at the Battle of Malvern Hill. After the smoke had cleared from the battle, Ellicombe and his men were sent on a scouting mission. During this mission, the Captain and his men stumbled across some of the deceased Confederate troops. In respect for the fallen, Ellicombe ordered that the men properly buried. While burying the fallen, a young man was discovered and to the horror of Captain Ellicombe, it was his son. The real shock of it all was that Captain Ellicombe had not spoken to his son since the outbreak of the war, as his son was, for some reason, studying music at a southern university. Prior to the war, the two spoke frequently and there was no sign of the son joining the army, let alone the Confederates. Now being his son, Ellicombe searched his son's pockets for his personal items in order to return them home to his wife with the horrible news of their son's death.

As Captain Ellicombe looked through his songs last possessions, he found mixed in a piece a scape paper with some music notes written scribbled down. The bereaved Captain then requested his companies bugler to play the tune at his son's burial, which he obliged too. The music then in some way made its way to Captain Ellicombe's commanding officer, General Daniel Butterfield. Now, Butterfield is also one to get credited for the creation of the song. He then had his bugler, Oliver Morton, fine tune the song and prepared to be taught to the entire company. The simple, yet mellisonant, tune was then passed to all the buglers within the company. It would eventually grow from a tune played during the Civil War to last sign of respect paid to soldiers around the world. But why does the Ellicombe Family fall by History's wayside?

The Ellicombe Family disappeared from History for perhaps a few reasons. First, there are no records of either of the Ellicombe men fighting in the war. Second, and hopefully not, General Butterfield stole the song and took the credit for himself. Third, perhaps since the young Ellicombe died in battle, the Ellicombe name was never passed on, ending the family name and its future significance in relation to the song. Yet, there is a fourth reason and its that the origin is still disputed between the Ellicombe, Butterfield and the John Tiball version. The Tiball version goes, he wrote the tune to replace the three gun salute. Regardless of which version you wish to believe, it is the song which is the most important. "Taps" today signifies a last sign of respect that the nation can give a fallen solider. Its simplistic, uncomplicated and somber tone can bring to tears to the coldest of men (and women). It is the last tone not simply from a brass instrument but from the service and work done by the fallen. It is a sobering arrangement symbolizing a soldier's work is finally done and can now rest at ease since he (or she) has fulfilled their duty to their nation. In a way "Taps" is our National Monument to the sacrifice of our troops from the founding of our nation, to today and beyond.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Oh Great Another Nail Biting Election.

Many of us can recall the fiasco that was the 2000 Presidential election. From the mistakes made in Florida, to actions of the media and the court cases that followed afterwards. With Election Day upon us once again, a dead heat between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney has gripped the nation. As of today the election is a horse race, the chances for both the incumbent and candidate are equal. But like any close election talks of fraud, cheating, scandals and all other kinds of trickery are on the tongues of every person in the country. But what most people don't know is this is nothing new to History, and oddly enough the same swing state that changed the 2000 election and has the possibility of doing the same today, Florida. The Election of 1876, which most of us probably never heard of, but it shows how the political landscape has not changed in our nation over the last 136 years and how politics and politicians are more or less in the same mindset.

The election was dead even and no clear winner was in sight that November of 1876. The race between future President Rutherford B. Hayes and Governor Samuel J. Tilden would eventually go on to become and is still the most disputed Presidential Election in American History. As Election Day 1876 drew to an end Tilden had a 20 vote lead in the Electoral College, all that was left to do was pop the champagne and welcome in President Tilden...but wait. Those missing 20 votes were made up from the states of Louisiana, South Carolina and the Sunshine State, Florida. The three states votes were already in dispute and both candidates filed charges and counter suits before the dust from the election had even cleared. The issue was so out of control Congress stepped in and created a special board of inquiry better known today as an Electoral Commission to settle the dispute. It was clear that Tilden clearly won the popular vote and was pretty close to winning the Electoral College. But after review it was clear that Hayes would carry both Louisiana, with 8 Electoral votes & South Carolina and its 7 votes. This put the election at Hayes 187- Tilden 184 with all eyes now focusing on the state of Florida as it did in 2000 and possibly tonight. But this is where the story gets fishy and why it is still debated today amongst historians.

So Florida is the deciding state in the election. Its, then, 4 votes would cement the victory for Hayes or push Tilden into the White House. The Florida Electoral Commission then contacted Tilden. Knowing that Louisiana and South Carolina were in Hayes' column the commission made the Tilden campaign an offer they shouldn't have refused. The offer was to make sure Florida's votes would never end up in Hayes' favor. What would Tilden have to do for such a favor? Well just pay the commission a miserly $200, that's all. But the ever confident Tilden refused the offer, assured that he wouldn't need the favor and that under the watchful eyes of the Federal Electoral Commission no such thing would work in his favor. Yet as we know now, there was never a President Tilden, and Florida's votes went to Hayes.

So Hayes becomes President, the Electoral Commission & Electoral College trumped the popular vote. Now nothing against President Hayes and his Presidency, but it can be seen that the Electoral College really mucks up the waters of our Presidential Elections. The Electoral College was created well before the establishment of political parties and has been playing catch up ever since. But do we really need it? Again, I am not one for questioning the Founding Fathers but the Electoral College just seems a bit out dated. It does not follow the basis for a democratic system and it is a violation of political equality for both candidates and voters. The College seems to manipulate how the President is elected. In every other election, Gubernatorial, Senatorial, Congressional, Mayoral and so on, hell even in the most basic elections, Grade School Class President we teach our youth about the power of elections, but then why is it that when it comes time to electing the President of the United States we use this system? The Electoral College dropped the ball in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000. Yes, there is a big gap between 1888 and the year 2000, but the issues remain the same. We see how a popularly elected candidate loses because of the Electoral College and its manipulation of representation. Since the founding of this nation electoral votes have changed throughout each states history, thus changing the electoral map every so many years, so if something is every changing whey rely on it? This election is surely one of the most heated in resent history. It is a time in our nations history not seen since perhaps the Civil War. The ideals, visions and concepts for our nation are split based on party alliances, religious views, how much money is in your bank account and so on. Yet no one is focused on our nation and it's survival. In 1776 the Founders set for an experiment in democracy which today we are quicken its failure. Tonight, I truly hope no matter who wins that the United States and its citizenry is their number one priority. As for the Electoral College it may be time for it to ride off into the sunset, but that is a debate for another time.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Suffer From Triskaidekaphobia? You Might Not Want to Read This.

The Halloween season is upon us. It's time for costume parties, trick or treaters, bobbing for apples, ghost stories and a superstitious grip that seems to take over people. However, not everyone is susceptible to these superstitions. No black cat, spilled salt, broken mirror or any other symbol of bad luck seemed to even bother certain men at the end of the 19th century. The Thirteen Club seemed to laugh in the face of superstition and bad luck and why? Well because they were awesome. But not only were they awesome, they were also one of the United States best kept secret society.

Before we jump into the inner workings of the Thirteen Club, why are people so afraid of the number 13? Well there are a few theories behind why. First, one of the earliest stories comes from Norse mythology. At the Valhalla Banquet, 12 gods were seated and Loki joined the party making 13. This is only bad because as Loki entered he killed Balder, a god much loved by the Norse people. The second origin follows the same suit. The story of the Last Super from Christian beliefs plays a major role in the spread of the fear of the number 13. At the Last Super, Jesus and his 12 disciples were seated at a table, 13 in total. As most know this was were Judas had betrayed Jesus, ultimately leading to his crucifixion. It is from here that the idea of 13 people sitting at a table would invite death to someone within that year. Here we see two similar stories, both with the same result, 13 guests and one person killed. But these are not the only theories, throughout ancient civilizations the number 13 was feared, Babylonians, Romans, Greeks and Persians all had reasons to fear that dark number of 13. But what about here in the good ol' U-S of A?

The name William Fowler my be new to you, but he was one of the most unsupuerstitious people in perhaps the world. Fowler had a unique relationship to the number 13 throughout his life. He was born in New York City and attended P.S. 13 and graduated at the age of 13. He later worked for a construction company which built 13 buildings in New York City. On April 13, 1861 he reported to Washington D.C. to report for service in the Union Army. There Captain Fowler, fought in 13 different battles. He would serve for two years and again ironically retire from duty of August 13, 1863. After the war he purchased a popular tavern in New York, The Knickerbocker Cottage. It was there that Captain Fowler were go on the offensive to prove that the number 13 was merely just a number and not the dark, spooky and terrifying number it was made out to be. 

 Those of us who are about to die salute you!

Fowler would establish the Thirteen Club in his Knickerbocker Cottage. The 19th century Zagat Guide would describe the Cottage as a "popular, quiet resort for merchants and sporting fellows." And like any good local watering hole the ideas of the day were freely shared amongst its patrons. It was here that Fowler would establish his Thirteen Club. It was an unsuspecting Friday in January of 1882, and if you've seen the pattern develop so far you know it was the 13th. The meeting started at 8:13pm and was hosted by Fowler who planned on entertaining 12 guests. Who were those 12 guests? Well they were patrons of the Knickerbocker Cottage, which Fowler hand picked over the prior year. Upon entering the guests passed under an open ladder which was under the above banner reading, "Morituri te Salutams" or in English "Those of us who are about to die salute you!" When reaching the round table, 13 chairs awaited them. In front of them 13 candles which provided the light and ambiance. The men dinned and conversed over 13 courses. Also while dinning if salt was spilled, it was forbidden that no salt was to be tossed over their right shoulders. Now this is really tempting fate, and to add more insult to the dark side, the candles held a greater meaning. It was claimed that the first candle to go out, that member would not be returning the following year if you get my drift.

The dinner was a success and all the members from the original meeting returned again the following year. This report sums up the first year of the Thirteen Club:

 "Out of the entire roll of membership … whether they have participated or not at the banquet table, NOT A SINGLE MEMBER IS DEAD, or has even had a serious illness. On the contrary, so far as can be learned, the members during the past twelve months have been exceptionally healthy and fortunate."

Fowler would live out the rest of his life without any repercussions from his activities. He would die in Jersey City, New Jersey and was described to be in a picture of health. The Club would continue for some time and even include several Presidents. That's right, Presidents, as in Presidents of the United States of America. Presidents Arthur, Cleveland, Harrison and T. Roosevelt were all members of the group. The Club also consisted of governors, mayors, and many more influential types of the 19th and early 20th century. However, as superstitious beliefs began to loss grip on society and with the on coming of World War I the Club ceased  to exist, or just perhaps went deeper underground. But that's the story of the Thirteen Club, brave men who laughed at superstitious ideas, and set out to disprove the fear that gripped people in the late 19th century. So this week go out, celebrate Halloween and don't be afraid of those dark shadows and bumps in the night. Go out to dinner with a group of 13 in honor of the Club, push for buildings to have  a 13th floor, but more importantly don't let those silly superstitions stop you from living.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

¡Viva la Revolución!

October is National Hispanic Heritage Month, so why not write about la Revolución! But before you think I've turned into a pinko commie, hold on a second. Hispanic people have played an intricate part of American History since, well since its own Revolution. Most people know about famous Hispanics like David Farragut, Ceaser Chavez, Sonia Sotomayor, Roberto Clemente etc. But many do not know about those that helped in the creation of the United States of America.
Many Spaniards aided in the American quest for Independence. Such brave men like, Jorge Farragut,  Bernardo de Gálvez & Juan de Miralles to name a few. But what about Latin Americans? One of the most unknown heroes of both American and Latin American History is Francisco de Miranda. Miranda played a major role in fighting the British in the Spanish campaigns in Florida.But first a short biography on Miranda. He was born in Caracas, Venezula in 1750. He received the finest education but he and his family were kept out of the higher ranks of society because of their Canarian roots (People of the Canary Islands). He was an educated young man of the late 18th century, yet was treated as second class so it would it was natural for de Miranda to take an interest in the Glorious Cause of Independence.

Miranda made his way into the Spanish Army by 1771 and his interest for the American Revolution was being stoked. He was stationed in Spanish Louisiana in 1781 when he saw his first action in the war. The Spanish entered the war in 1779 and made short work of the British in the Southwestern part of the Colonies. In 1781, Miranda would take part in the Siege of Pensacola. There the Spanish not only took British West Florida but captured large quantities of British war materials and even a sloop of war. The battle secured the inner Gulf coast from further British Naval advances. After this, Miranda was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel under General l Juan Manuel de Cajigal y Monserrat. After their success at Pensacola, the Spanish pushed on. They went on to capture the British fort at the Bahamas (1782). The British commander John Maxwell high tailed it out of their when he saw the size of the invading Spanish forces. The jubilant Miranda carried the good news back his commanding officer Bernardo de Gálvez. Gálvez was enraged that he was not included in the invasion or even asked for the "okay", and had both Miranda and Cajigal jailed. He was released and would visit the newly forming United States in 1783. There he met key figures behind the Revolution: Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson & most importantly Thomas Paine. But why is Miranda not celebrated in American History or even in Latin American History? The answer lies in several colliding reasons.

Miranda learned a lot from his time in the Spanish Army, fighting in the Revolution, and from his meeting with Americans. The these three reasons are why Miranda is not a household historical name here in the States. After his release from prison the ideas of Independence stuck with him. He then traveled through Europe where the ideas of the Founding Fathers also continued to ring in his head. Miranda partook in the French Revolution where Thomas Paine's ideas of universal human rights would continue to push Miranda towards his destiny. The idea that all men are created equal stayed in his heart and he turned to help his own people in South America. He wanted to free them from the oppression of Spanish rule. He spread the ideas of Independence through out his travels in South America and would return to his native Venezuela to fight in the fight for Venezuelan Independence. However, Miranda would be turned over to the Spanish during the war and would die in a military prison in Cadiz. Nonetheless, his ideas struck a cord in Latin American History. He shared his ideas with the great Simon Bolivar and is still held in the highest of regards in Venezuela. In the States he has been immortalized on the streets of Philadelphia with a monument in Center City. The legacy of Francisco de Miranda is the following: he was an idealist, with the idea of spreading the Independence born in America throughout South America, he was a war hero and martyr for the Cause, within fourteen years of his death in 1816 almost all of South America was independent from it's European colonizers. The man was best immortalized in the words of Simon Bolivar,

"Miranda was a man of the eighteenth century whose genius lay in raising the consciousness and confidence of his fellow Americans. Although he prided himself on being a soldier, his greatest battles were fought with his pen."

It is for these reason that Miranda is an excellent example of not only the spirit of American Independence, but that of the spirit of the Latin American people in their never ending quest for freedom, liberty, equality and universal justice.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What!? Slavery Should Have Ended When!?!?

We are all taught that slavery in America ends with the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln delivers the Emancipation Proclamation and by 1865 freedom is given to all those in bondage. This is semi true as slavery did end but other restrictive laws were than imposed on the African American population for the next 100 or so years. But what if I told you slavery could have ended earlier than 1865 and the words "all men are created equal" would have rang true throughout our history. The story of Elizabeth Freeman is a story of triumph for equality and freedom, but why didn't it change the course of American History?

A short 10 cent biography of Elizabeth Freeman would read something like this, born into slavery in 1742 in Claverack, NY, married around 1778ish, widowed by 1781 and freed in 1783. Freed? From Slavery? Yes, in 1783 that Bett would change History. By the time of the Revolution, Bett was a house servant to Colonel John Ashley of Ashley Falls, Mass. Ashley wasn't a bad guy, he was known for treating his slaves better then other slave owners, educating them and giving them proper housing, clothing, food, etc. But the ideas of freedom, independence & equality were sweeping the colonies and was topic number one amongst the colonists. The ideas reached everyone from the wealthiest families of Virginia and Massachusetts to the poorest of the poor and even to the every growing population of slaves. Bett would hear these words and ideas frequently spoke of amongst Col. Ashley and his guests, and they took root in her as they did in so many others. Bett heard the talk of "the inalienable rights of men" & "All men are born and created equal." The words could not escape her thoughts and Bett would approach Col. Ashley to ask if those words applied to her, in which Ashley would explain that it did not. But that did not deter Bett, and she wouldn't take no for an answer. She then backed her bags and set out on what should have changed the course of American History.

Bett set out on a four mile hike to visit one Theodore Sedgwick, a local lawyer and friend of Col. Ashley. Sedgwick originally wishing not to offend his friend the Ashley, he sent Bett back home. However, her words stuck with him and he began to see that the words that the new nation would be based on did apply to all those in America. These words came flowing from the newly written Massachusetts State Constitution and the more Sedgwick read it the more Bett's request made sense but more importantly that the ideas in the document were a legally binding. That said Sedqwick built a case for Bett and filed a lawsuit against his old friend Ashley in the Court of Common Please in Great Barrington, Mass. The trial began in August of 1781 and was in short a big deal inside the state of Massachusetts. Ashley hired himself the best lawyers in the state to defend him against Sedgwick's arguments. The case was argued by both sides, the jury heard each side and weighed the evidence. The verdict? Well in the case of Brom & Bett vs. Ashley the jury found Bett a free woman under the contexts of the State Constitution. Ashley had no legal rights to hold Bett in servitude for life. The decision also called for Ashley to compensate Bett with thirty shillings in silver for damages and five pounds, fourteen shillings & four pence for costs. But with the case setting a precedent how did slavery continue to exist?

You have to first look at the date to see why slavery continued to exist, 1781. At the time the newly forming nation was united under the Articles of Confederation which was just a loose tying agreement between the states. It is that reason that slavery did not become abolished nationally as the U.S. Constitution would not be ratified until 1788. However, in Massachusetts the institution of slavery did become outlawed in the wake of the decision, 1783. In the following years the Northern states followed the example, Connecticut, then Rhode Island and so on. As for Bett, she would work for wage in the Sedgwick home as a care giver for the Sedgwick children. After the children had grown, Bett bought her own home in Stockbridge and lived out the rest of her life until her death in 1829. The story of Bett is an intricate part of the History of Slavery in America. The case set a standard for the words Liberty, Freedom and Equality. Yes, after the case of Bett many slaves were freed from bondage in the Northern states but it would still take almost another 50 years until the institution of slavery was completely eradicated from the United States. Bett should be held as a pioneer in so many aspects of our History and deserves to be remembered, along with the work of Theodore Sedgwick, as being the candle in the dark room, pushing the ideas of abolitionism into the forming of State governments and eventually onto the national stage in ending the institution all together. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Columbus Shumbus

"In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue." That is a fact but the truth is Columbus comes in a distant second in the scope of History. It is no secret that there is evidence that disproves Columbus was the first European to step foot in the New World, let alone North America. No that title belongs to Leif Erikson. Erikson discovered the New World before it was cool, some 500 years before Christopher "Mr. Tardy" Columbus would accidentally stumble across it. But why does Lief get no credit? Is it because of his Viking heritage? Most likely not but here we will examine both why he gets not credit for his discovery and how Erikson came about discovering the New World.

 Leif Erikson comes from a long line of bad asses. He was the son of Erik the Red & grandson of Thorvald Asvaldsson, which for those who know there Norse History were two dudes you did not want to mess with. But the true greatness of Leif Erikson comes from his quest in the year 999 AD. In that year Leif returned to his ancestral home of Norway, converted to Christianity and was given the mission of spreading the beliefs to Greenland. Yet fate had a different plan for Erikson. While en route to Greenland, a storm forced Leif and his crew of thirty five men off course and land them in Newfoundland. Yes you read that right, Newfoundland. However, this area would be known to history as Vinland. Leif and his merry men sailed the coast making stops in several areas Helluland (Baffin Island), Markland (Labrador) and Vinland as a whole. It was there in Newfoundland that Leif and the boys set up small settlement to wait out the winter. In late spring Leif returned with 11th century souvenirs such as: grapes, figs, timber & animal furs. But the settlement was not just a temporary one, no the Norse would return again.

After his first trip Leif returned to the New World again. It is somewhere around this time that the present archeological site of L'Anse aux Meadows was established, making the first European settlement in the New World by Erikson and not Columbus. Also through out several Norse Sagas, there are stories retelling the trips of men and attempts of establishing permanent settlements in the New World. In 1004 Thorvald Erikson, Leif's brother, would venture to Newfoundland, he was followed by the other Erikson son, Thorstein in 1005. Later in 1009, Thorfinn Karlsefni set sail with the intention of establishing a colony but failed. In the end however, the story seems the same for Norse, internal issues within their own community and poor relations with the Native populations, both of which would ultimately force the idea of a colony to be abandoned but to only use Vinland as a source of resources. However, archaeological research has given evidence that the Norse may have reached the New England area and even as far west as the Great Lakes. The evidence comes from items found in ancestral Native American sites, such as coins, crafted tools and other Norse supplies, all which could have switched hands at a trading post or through Norse excursions. But now, why does Columbus get the credit? But more importantly does he deserve it?

Erikson gets snubbed from his rightful place in History for a few reasons. First, when Columbus arrived, 500 years later, Europe was much more technologically advanced especially in seafaring. Second, after Columbus "found" the New World he opened the flood gates to everyone else in Europe; governments, businesses, adventurers, etc. Third, the Age of Discovery was in full swing, everyone wanted a piece of the world and every government sent men to find as much of it as they could and claim it for an individual country. Fourth, the Norse never really established an official colony but several outpost which were used just as stopping points. But fifth, and what I think is most important is the discovery of the Norse settlements. Yes, the sagas were always there but they were just legends, stories with no hard proof, until 1960 that is. It was then in 1960 that L'Anse aux Meadows was found by Helge Ingstad, a Norse Historian. But it was too late for Ingstad and Erikson. For the previous 468 years children around the world were taught that it was Chris Columbus that discovered the New World first. It is pretty hard to undo almost 500 years of teaching in just 52 years. But all hope is not lost fro Leif and the brave Norse people who ventured to the New World before it was the New World.

Leif's legend lives on today in many parts of America, Canada, Iceland and Norway. In fact the above photo was taken near the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. The Nordic American communities have always held Leif above Columbus as the true discoverer of the New World. There are monuments to him throughout America, for example the cities of Boston, Chicago, St. Paul & Duluth are all home to statues honoring his achievements. Even at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the Viking, which was a recreation of a ship similar to that of Erikson's, arrived in Chicago to exemplify how Erikson would have sailed to Vinland. President "Cool" Calvin Coolidge would even proclaim that Erikson was the first European to discover America. But where are we today? Statues are great and recognition once in a while is also nice but what about something more lasting, something like a holiday. Every year we celebrate Columbus Day, or Second Place Day as it should be called. But what about Erikson Day? Well in 1964 Congress and President Johnson authorized October 9th as "Leif Erikson Day." It is a Federal Holiday but it is mainly celebrated in areas of Nordic ancestry. Ironically the man who discovered the New World first now has to wait a day after the man who discovered the New World second. Yet I have faith that one day Leif Erikson's discovery will trump that of Columbus, as Columbus himself had admitted to hearing the stories of Erikson's discovery, which in turn may have given him the confidence in undertaking his own endeavor in 1492.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Where is Teddy Roosevelt When You Need Him?

Teddy Roosevelt may be the only man in American History that can rival the life and legends of George Washington. He was a war hero, cowboy, was almost assassinated, a politician, adventurer, and all-around bad ass. President Roosevelt's achievement list can go on and on, but there is something TR did that needs to be looked at again, especially now in an election year. Today's political climate is, well lets face it, a complete catastrophe. Nothing good has come out of Washington, in a while, but who is to blame? Can we blame the President? the Senate? the House? the Supreme Court? Who!? Everyone lets to blame someone but I am going to blame the system. The system I speak of is our two party system. Now before you think I've turned on the Founders, just wait and hear me out. It is time for those running for office, and Americans as well, to look back at TR's attempt to change the political landscape of America with his Bull Moose Party.

Don't let that happy face fool you! Teddy Roosevelt would punch you in the throat as easily as he flashes his pearly whites. Roosevelt left the highest office in the land in 1909. But instead of being a normal retiree and enjoying his well deserved time off he jumped right back into politics. After Roosevelt's Presidency the Republican Party began to take a sharp turn to the right. His recommendation for President, President Taft, also abandoned the hopes of Roosevelt and became quite the poster child for the conservative right. Finally, when 1912 came around, Roosevelt felt the U.S. needed another dose of awesomeness and decided to throw his name in the hat for President. In the earliest of polls Roosevelt seemed like a shoe in, but Taft controlled the party and the convention. Never to be discouraged, Roosevelt claimed he'd accept a nomination from a "honestly elected" convention. It would only be a matter of time before Roosevelt would be back in the political spotlight, but not without a few bumps in the road.

The party was formed in a way that would make even some people in the Occupy Wall Street movement cringe. Roosevelt met with Governor Hiram Johnson of California, publisher Frank A. Munsey, and George W. Perkins who was the director of U.S. & Chairman of the International Harvester Company Steel. Working together the group formed the new Party. However, many Republicans were hesitant to side with Roosevelt and his Progressive platform. Of the 15 Progressive Republicans, only five sided with TR. Hell, even Roosevelt's own son-in-law Nicolas Longworth sided with Taft, which must have caused some long quite dinners and lonely nights on the couch in the Longworth home. The silver lining is that many Independents liked the message and sided with the new Party. Aside from the problem of not being supported, the second problem came from the Democrats. They nominated Woodrow "The Schoolmaster" Wilson, perhaps the most progressive thinking man in America at the time. This in turn split that Independent base that Roosevelt was counting on. I mean even Republicans were siding with Wilson over Taft, thats how good he was. But this did not deter Roosevelt of his Party.

The convention took place in August of 1912 in Chicago. Well over 2,500 delegates showed up to support Roosevelt and the the Progressive Party. The one main difference between the Progressive Party and the Republican and Democratic Convention was the amount of women in attendance. The reason, the BMP endorsed the women's suffrage movement as a national movement. Roosevelt ignited the crowd in his typical fashion, animated, enthusiastic, empowering and many more adverbs that can describe how the great Teddy Roosevelt spoke. His speech was direct and thorough. Explaining the platform and direction he wished to take America in, in the early stages of the 20th century. The Party's idea was a concoction of ideas from both parties. It was bipartisanship come to life. The party touched on both social and political reform. The eight hour work day, workers compensation, social insurance for the elderly, unemployed & disabled and the inheritance tax are just a few things the Party pushed for in 1912 that we still have today. They pushed for a minimum wage for women, which was quite the scandalous idea then. They aimed at changing the political system as well, direct elections for Senators and direct democracy. The power was literally given to the people, recall elections, referendums, initiatives and Judicial recalls. Even though this was the base of their case the main goal was ending big businesses influence in politics. They wanted to do so by limiting and disclosing campaign contributions, registering lobbyists and recording & publicating Congressional proceedings. Now, this seems pretty liberal and one sided but wait! The Party also called for lowering tariffs, creating a "strong national regulation," a vigorous foreign policy, strengthening the military. However the main goal here was the idea of "New Nationalism," a strong central government aimed at protecting the working and middle class all the while industry would take on great projects to propel the U.S. into a future of success.

Even though the Roosevelt name was as big as Washington or Lincoln, he was still the dark horse candidate. But like the forming of the party the campaign was not easy. With no backing, money was tight. Backers who supported Roosevelt in the prior elections stayed away and finally many did not like that he was running for a third term. By the time the smoke cleared after the 1912 election, the BMP walked away just short of winning the election. Fortunately, 4.1 million Americans felt that Roosevelt and the BMP had the right idea to take America into the future. However, he had to admit defeat to Woodrow Wilson. This would be the best showing by any third party candidate in American Presidential History. After the failed attempt Roosevelt ended his illustrious political career to backpack through South America and then formed a volunteer unit for WWI. Even though Roosevelt was still active, the Progressive Party was about to sputter out of steam. Attempts were made in the '14 and '18 Presidential elections but they were blown out of the water. However, several Senators, Representatives and State Officials ran on the BMP platforms and won. There wasn't another big push until the 1924 and 1948 elections both which also as we know resulted in loses. But what is there to learn from Roosevelt's experiment in third party politics?

The thing we have to learn from Roosevelt is that in America is a place of compromise. Today the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Republicans and Democrats are in a, and excuse my language, dick-measuring contest. And that is the real problem that can be solved in reviewing the BMP. Like I said in the beginning, who is to blame? In the end its all of them, its everyone involved and its all of us. Today the style which Roosevelt used is almost gone. The idea that all sides can be appeased is genius and Roosevelt had the plan. He wanted social reforms while at the same time building the military. He believed in protecting workers while allowing industries to grow. However, the one thing that can't be ignored then and now is the amounts of money dumped into the politic process. Roosevelt saw it then and prepared steps to limit it, yet for some reason today that it is not true. On November 6th we will all go to the polls, cast our vote and hold our breaths until the results are announced. We will either, in the words of Stan Marsh, we have a Douche or a Turd Sandwich for President. The cycle will then continue on...until we have another Teddy Roosevelt. The one great thing about America is that it is full of people who want to defend their rights. Unfortunately, American "rights" are different for all of us, some want to be taxed others don't want to pay a dime. This past week I was told the ideas that I hold true to me as an American are gone, that they are impossible to go back to, but it will take one voice, one movement, a true American movement that will bridge the gap between all of us and move us into a new American Century.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Are You Ready Some Football!?!? Well 19th Century Football That Is.

Football in America is like a religion in most parts of the country. From the Pop Warner Leagues to the NFL, the sport takes on a life of its own amongst fans. But if football is to be compared to a religion where should fans make a pilgrimage to in order to pay homage to the football gods? Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and etc. all have a central place they make pilgrimages to, but what about football? Where should people go? Canton, Ohio? Lambeau Field? Solider Field? Or perhaps just maybe can it be found in New Brunswick, New Jersey? I am not referring to the High Point Solutions Stadium but this piece of History does involve Rutgers University. The first ever organized football game ever played was played on November 6, 1869 between the Rutgers Queensmen and the New Jersey Tigers, giving birth  to the modern game of football as we know it today.

So on that crisp autumn November day, fifty student took the field to create history, and yes that is right I said fifty, twenty five players a team. The games rules were a rough combination of what we would see today if we combined rugby and soccer (or futbol for my international readers). The ball could be moved around the field by hitting it with the hands, head, sides and feet. To score the ball had to kicked into the opposing side's goal. The play book and strategy was pretty simple: two players stood close to the opposing goal in hopes of scoring quickly, eleven "fielders" basically played defense and twelve "bulldogs" were the offense. The uniforms were simple, the New Jersey Tigers wore white shirts, while the Rutger's Queensmen wore red handkerchiefs on their heads to distinguish the differences between the teams.The scoring system was also much different from today. A game was made up of ten "games." Those "games" ended when a team scored a goal, after which a new game would start. In simpler terms it was 10 game series, winning record wins the game. As for the game, well it could be considered the first grid iron classic.

The Rutger's Queensmen, later to be Rutger's Scarlet Knights, faced of against The College of New Jersey Tigers, who would go on to become the Princeton Tigers. Rutger's struck first when S.G. Gano connected with G.R. Dixon for the first score in football history. Rutger's also tried to use the "flying wedge" which for anyone who has seen the Mighty Ducks, this move is better known as the "flying V." Unfortunately for Rutgers the Tigers had J.E. "Big Mike" Michael, who was best described as a human wrecking ball. He was the Incredible Hulk double in the lower right hand corner of the above photo. The game would eventually tie after four games at 2-2. Defensively, Rutgers was at an advantage thanks the quickness of their "fielders" especially  Madison Ball who scored once and set up Dixon with his second score of the game, giving Rutgers a 4-2 lead. The Tigers then used Rutgers own strategy of the "Flying Wedge" to tie the game at 4. So with eight games played it was coming down to the fourth quarter...well not really but the contest was going into the nail biting stages of a game. Under the leadership of their captain, John W. Leggett, Rutgers would go on to score two goals in quick succession thus winning the game 6-4.

On paper, this game was to end much differently. The Tigers were the bigger and stronger team but as they say, on any given Sunday. As it turns out Rutgers used their speed and quickness to outplay the Tigers. A hundred people witnessed History that day as Rutgers won that game and began to lay the road for what we know as the most popular sport in America. In fact you can take those 100 people and say it was the first sell-out crowd at a football game.
The game ended but the celebration didn't stop as Rutgers scored that sixth goal. As the Tigers left New Brunswick, Rutger's students ran the Tigers out of town harassing and heckling them the entire 20 mile ride back to Princeton. However, on November 13, the Tigers had their revenge. The first rematch in football history was played at the College of New Jersey and it was an absolute massacre. The Tigers crushed Rutgers 8-0. A third and final game was scheduled for the following week, the first grudge match. It seemed that the game had taken on a life of its own and college officials felt it was becoming a distraction to the student body, if they could only see the game today. So there was no official champion for the 1869 season, just a tie. But it started the first rivalry in the sport and laid the ground work for the players of today. It was 4 years until football was organized played on the collegiate level and nearly 50 years until the first professional football league was formed. Many argue that the "Boston Game" was the first form of football but when reviewing the game we see it was the combination of running and kicking a ball on school yards not the organized and strategic game that was played on College Field. Today that 1869 game is less than just a memory to most fans but can be considered the Holy Grail of football, the Mecca of the game, the Graceland of the grid iron the life spark of what we know the game as today. The players of today, Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis, Larry Fitzgerald, Clay Matthews and so many more owe their living all to those fifty students that played the first football game that November day.