King Philip’s War

Over 100 years before the American Revolution and nearly 80 years before the French and Indian War (Seven Years War) English Settlers and Native forces clashed over the English expansion of the colonies in what is now Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The war itself was the local native groups last-ditch effort to avoid recognizing English authority and stop English settlement on their native lands. The war is named after the Wampanoag chief Metacom, later known as Philip or King Philip, who led the fourteen-month bloody rebellion. Metacom was a Wampanoag Sachem who had been educated by English Settlers at Harvard, with his education came a better understanding of the English and their plans for expansion throughout the region. King Philip (Metacom) led his tribe and a coalition of the Nipmuck, Pocumtuck and Narraganset tribes in an uprising against the colonists and their allies, the Mohegans and the Mohawks, that lasted 14 months. The following videos offer a succinct explanation of the war in which the English settlers lost nearly every single battle but came to victory due to disease and starvation of the native groups. The videos are by Atun-Shei Films whose owner is dedicated to researching the history of King Philip’s War and other historical events.

King Philip, illustration published in the Pictorial History of King Philip’s War, circa 1851

Slavery in Living History

As I have noted in many prior articles on my blog, living history bring a nuance to understanding parts of history. Living historians play a role of someone living in the time period in which the persona would have lived. Many of these living historians take on personas that are difficult, imagine if you will being an African-American and willingly working or portraying a slave persona. You are knowingly researching the living hell that your ancestors went through so that you can portray what life was like as a slave in the colonial period and early United States. I have attached several videos below of African-American living historians. These living historian work at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and other historic sites to help people better understand slavery in America.

This first segment is from George Washington’s Mount Vernon, it is a panel discussion with Living Historians from several sites.

Hear My Story: The Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon

The next segment is from Townsends & Sons who do regular work with portraying living history on their YouTube channel, this segment is an interview with Brenda Parker who portrays a slave at Mount Vernon, Washington’s Estate. Brenda gets rather emotional during this segment.

Portraying the Enslaved Woman – Townsends

This is also Brenda Parker, interviewed by the staff at Mount Vernon and school students.

An Update

Greetings Friends,

The world has been interesting over the last several weeks, and while I love to bring you regular stories about history, my current full-time job is in the emergency medical services. While the EMS service that I work for in Western Pennsylvania has not been particularly busy during the pandemic it is a difficult time and frankly the limited social interaction myself and my coworkers get right now is at work. Often our days include conference calls with updates from the state, local hospital systems and our local government.

I am currently doing some research on the Battle of Bushy Run, during Pontiac’s Rebellion and as soon as I get finished with it, I will get it posted. I have been a little more active on the Magical History Tour Facebook page sharing fun and informative videos and recent history related articles. When life returns to normal I look forward to sharing more adventures and history with you!

Finally, I ask you to support your local EMS and healthcare workers, while they are dealing with the stress of work, they are also dealing with the stress that the rest of you are dealing with. Add into that the fear of bring the virus home to their families. It is and will be a very stressful time for healthcare workers for a while.

Thank you all again, Stay Safe!

Shawn

Joseph Plumb Martin – Quarantined in the 18th Century

Below is a video from Townsends about the memoir of Joseph Plumb Martin, who was a revolutionary war soldier, in his memoir, he writes about being quarantined with many other soldiers so that they could receive the Smallpox inoculation. The video uses some outtakes from the book, and I have also supplied a link to the book for your reading pleasure.

Quarantined in the 18th Century Video

Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier – Joseph Plumm Martin

The topic of quarantine and social distancing is not new to United States history, or history in general. It is a part of our history and the current pandemic will also be an important part to history that will be shared in history classes in our future. Everyday something historic happens, the current nCovid-19 outbreak will be an important topic in the future as it is a news story today. While I continue to work my regular job as an EMT, I will continue to write articles he on the blog and be posting historic videos and fun history videos on my Facebook page.

I hope you all are taking care of yourselves and your family, friends and neighbors and that you all stay healthy.

Flags of the American Revolution

The television show “The Big Bang Theory” and Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s “Fun with Flags” vlog is sort of my inspiration for this post. I have always been very interested in the various flags I have seen from the American Revolution on the continental side. It is also interesting to see how those flags have developed into the flags that the people of the United States continue to use today.

British Red Ensign – www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

The British Red Ensign was approved and adopted by Queen Anne in 1707, though it was largely used as a naval ensign it became the flag for Great Britain and the colonies. When General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, this is the flag he surrendered to Washington. In Washington’s surrender to the French at Fort Necessity, the French allowed washington and his forces to leave with the Red Ensign flying.

The flag below is known as the Bedford Flag, the picture on the left is the original flag, known to be the oldest complete flag known to exist in the United States. The photo on the right is a flag carried by the Massachusetts Bay Colony Militia during the French and Indian War. It was also carried by the Bedford Minutemen in the Battle of Concord Bridge on April 19, 1775. The inscription “Vince Aut Morire” means Conquer or Die.

As the sentiment against the british taxes on the colonies began to grow, a Liberty Pole was raised in Schenectady NY, on that pole was a blue silk 44×44 inch flag with the word “Liberty” sewn into it. This Liberty Flag quickly became a symbol for those opposed to British taxation and acts against the colonies. This same flag was reportedly carried into battle by the First New York Line Regiment, the unit was largely from Schenectady. The Liberty Flag is the first known Revolutionary flag.

First Flag of New England – https://revolutionarywar.us/flags/

The First Flag of New England, shown above, shows the pine tree in the upper left left hand corner becomes a common theme in flags in the rebelling colonies. The pine tree symbolism comes from the Penacook Native American tribe that lived along the coast of the areas that are now Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Southern Maine. The Penacook were credited with the survival of the Mayflower colonists in the first Thanksgiving story. The Penacook name comes from Algonquin meaning, children of the pine. This flag, and many like it were carried into battle during the revolution by some rebel units, and was made into several other variants that you will see below.

Very similar to the Flag of New England above is the Continental Flag was also called the Trumbull Flag. A flag carried at the Battle of Breed’s Hill (Bunker Hill), The British soldiers only recalled seeing a red flag flown, but recollections from the rebel side account the pine tree on the Continental flag. The reason this flag is also called the Trumbull flag is because it appears in a painting by John Trumbull who fought one the rebel side at the Battle of Breed’s Hill. The painting, called “The death of General Warren” shown below has caused some confusion over the years, as the painting has aged, the flag appears to be blue with the pine tree in the corner, The British Ensign is also discolored and appears green. This confusion caused later production of the Continental Flag to be made of blue cloth with the pine tree in the upper left corner.

Other flags with the Pine Tree portrayal range from several different areas. In 1775, George Washington outfitted six schooners to patrol along the coast, these ships were called Washington’s Cruisers, They were armed with a single cannon (likely a 3 pounder) and small arms, these ships were meant to harass and evade, drawing fire away from land attacks by the British naval vessels. The Cruisers flew a simple flag, a Pine Tree on a white background with “Appeal to Heaven” in black letters. Massachusetts also used the Pine tree as the ensign for its own Naval Militia.

Why the Pine Tree? In 1722, the British had depleted healthy forests with thick mast trees for their navy, so a proclamation was listed that any white pine tree measuring 24 inches in diameter was now the property of the Crown and furthermore, any White Pine measuring 12 inches in diameter could not cut down. Colonists were also forbidden from selling these “Mast Trees” to anyone else, including colonial shipbuilders. While this order from the Crown did not have much descent at the time, in 1772, with other taxation orders like the Stamp Act and the Tea Tax, the Mast Preservation Clause became yet another reason to fight the power of Britain. Sawyers and Millners began to refuse to cut the trees for British ships leading to the Pine Tree Riots (future article teaser) and making the Pine Tree a symbol of liberty.

The next group we’ll call “The Snake Flags,” flags developed very likely from the “Unite or Die” political cartoon that was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, to get the colonies to unite against the French during the Seven Years War ( French and Indian War). The Snake became a symbol of unity an the onset of disagreements with the British government. The Culpeper Flag was carried into battle in Colonel Patrick Henry’s unit, the Culpeper Minutemen. The Culpeper flag feature a coiled snake with a bannerline “The Culpeper MinuteMen” and also “Liberty or Death” and “Don’t Tread on Me” in letters around the coiled snake. The flag the gets a little more notoriety is the Gadsden Flag, the Gadsden Flag was made as a naval ensign for the new United States Navy designed by South Carolina Congressman Christopher Gadsden. The design featured a yellow flag with a coiled snake on grass and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” along the bottom. The Navy Jack soon became a standard on U.S. naval vessels, it featured an uncoiled snake across thirteen red and white stripes and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” on the lowest white stripe.

The next group we’ll call the Stars and Stripes group, these flags were largely what inspired the modern U.S. flag. The first of these would be the Sons of Liberty flag, the Sons of Liberty were a rebel group initially based on Boston. The Sons of Liberty were known to gather under a tree that was called the Liberty Tree in Boston, when the British found out about the Liberty Tree, they had it cut down. The Sons of Liberty placed a pole at the site of the tree which would then be called the Liberty Pole at the top of that pole flew a flag of thirteen simple red and white stripes, this flag became the flag of the Sons of Liberty. The Grand Union Flag was the original United States Flag kept the British Union Jack in the upper left hand corner and the stripes of the colonies throughout the rest of the flag, some historians believe that it was a way to show respect to the Crown and hope for a peaceful ending and a reasonable outcome with self rule and remaining British Subjects. The Grand Union Flag was replaced on June 14, 1777 (which became Flag Day). Legend says that George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross took a drawing to Betsy Ross, asking her if she could create a flag from a paper drawing. The Betsy Ross Flag followed with thirteen horizontal red and white stripes and a blue field with thirteen five pointed stars in a circle. The Betsy Ross Flag would be the model for all future U.S. Flags.

The Thirteen Star Flag is the flag that was actually approved by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777 as the United States Flag, the Congress however never specified the layout of the stars in the blue field. The Green Mountain boys flag had a simple layout, a green flag (the shade of green varied a bit based on who made the flag) and in the upper left corner a blue field of thirteen, five pointed stars. The Green Mountain Boys were the New Hampshire Militia led by Ethan Allen and Seth Warner who took Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point during the revolution. The Bennington Flag was carried into the battle of Bennington by Nathaniel Fillmore. The flag has the usual 13 stars and stripes, but is unique because the stars have seven points and the stripes are white on the outer edges instead of the familiar red, and also displays the number “76” for the year of the Declaration of Independence. The Guilford Courthouse Flag was carried into the Battle of Guilford Courthouse as a member of the Granville County, North Carolina militia. The Flag had thirteen eight pointed blue stars on a white field and thirteen red and blue stripes. The Serapis Flag was made out of necessity, when John Paul Jones captured the HMS Serapis in a sea battle, he lost his flag the USS Bonhomme went down sank during the same battle. Jones sailed the Serapis into the dutch port of Texel, the British immediately wanted the ship returned to British custody and jones hanged as a pirate. Benjamin Franking who was serving as the U.S. Ambassador to France sent a Crude description of the new U.S. flag via courier the Serapis Flag was quickly made and raised on the now U.S.S Serapis was able to leave the Port of Texel.

This is not the only flags that existed in the development of the United States during the revolution. It shows the individuality of the flags and an idea of their history and a new avenue to explore.

Sources:

National Park Service – Articles of Capitulation Fort Necessity: https://www.nps.gov/fone/learn/historyculture/capitulation.htm

Revolutionary War and Beyond – Revolutionary War Flags: https://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/american-revolution-flags.html

National Flag Foundation – https://nationalflagfoundation.org/where-to-see-famous-american-flags/

History Camp – Philadelphia

On May 2nd, 2020, I will be presenting at History Camp – Philadelphia. My topic will be “Slavery, Abolition and Seeking Freedom in Pittsburgh.” The Pittsburgh area has an interesting history in regards to Slavery and Abolition, and while it wasn’t a major place of Underground Railroad activity, there are some important figures from the Pittsburgh Area.

History Camp began in Boston in 2014 and over the past several years has expanded into a non-profit organization called, The Pursuit of History. With the founding of the non-profit and the expansion of History Camps to several places throughout the United States, The Pursuit of History is attracting adults to learn, think and connect more to history.

Please check out History Camp – Philadelphia and hopefully, we will see you there!

Kit-Han-Nee

Nestled on a long curve on the Allegheny river roughly 40 miles northeast of Pittsburgh is the town of Kittanning, Pennsylvania. The town’s name come from the name of a Leni Lenape (Delaware) village that was established on the same land in 1730. This village would be the site of a small but memorable battle in the late summer of 1756. The battle gets little mention in the grand campaign of the French and Indian war, but has some importance in the attempt to control the waterways of what is now Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Battle of Kittanning, as it is referred to in history books was part of the Armstrong Expedition, the namesake Lieutenant Colonel John Armstrong was sent forth in response to multiple British losses in the French and Indian War. The French capture of the Forks of the Ohio (Fort Duquesne) essentially gave the French control of the Allegheny River. Raids by the Leni Lenape and other native peoples had killed many British soldiers and militia in the region and taken captive women and children, taking and killing livestock as well.

John Armstrong – PSU Library

The Pennsylvania colonial government was angered to see settlers deserting its western frontier due to the raids and French encroachment. Pennsylvania have a large Quaker representation in the colonial government tended to reserve any use of militia as a purely defensive posture. This posture ended when Fort Granville was attacked in July of 1756 (Near Lewistown, Mifflin County PA). The militia at the fort to protect settlers in the area was manned by on 24 soldiers, the rest of the garrison had traveled to Juniata county to help protect settlers there, during the harvest. Lieutenant Edward Armstrong, John Armstrong’s brother, was left in charge of the 24 man garrison at Fort Granville. The fort was attacked by Leni Lenape and French soldiers believed to have come from Kit-han-nee.

The Lieutenant Governor Robert Hunter Morris, was greatly angered by the continued attacks on settlers and the attack on Fort Granville. Morris enlisted John Armstrong to end the attacks with a raid on Kit-han-nee. A former captive from Kit-han-nee, John Baker advised Armstrong on the defenses and build of the village. Baker also accompanied Armstrong as a guide. At Kit-han-nee was also believed to be Shingas and Tewea (Captain Jacobs) who were believed to be some of the leaders in the Granville attack. After the attack, a reward was placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette for the heads (literally) of Shingas and “Captain Jacobs.” After a nine day march to the west, Armstrong and his 300 man unit arrived on the hills east of Kit-han-nee.

Pennsylvania Gazette – March 4, 1756

On the morning of September 8th, Armstrong attacked the village, taking the Delaware by surprise. In the disarray inside the town, Captain Jacobs rallied Delaware warriors to fight back and fire upon the Pennsylvania Militia, using their cabins as cover. As the Delaware began to shoot back Armstrong was struck by a bullet and a number of his men were struck and killed. Armstrong realized that continuing to fire upon the Delaware who were well covered was futile. As he was taken for medical attention after being shot in the shoulder, he ordered that the village be burned. As the village began to burn, many of the Delaware began to flee and were shot and killed by the Pennsylvania Militia. As they ran, Jacobs and his wife and children were killed. There were also multiple explosions due to the fact that the French had delivered gun powder to the town days before.

When Armstrong received intelligence that a large group of Delaware along with French soldiers were approaching from the west, he ordered the Militia to retreat, as they returned to where they had camped the night before, they came across members of Lieutenant James Hoggs Detachment. Hogg and his men had been ordered to attack a Delaware encampment that had been spotted the previous evening. Hogg and his men were to begin the attack at roughly the same tie the attack began on the village. Hogg’s detachment had found a much larger detachment than was expected. Hogg and five others were killed in the attack and the retreating men, met in confusion of Armstrong’s men retreating from the attack on the village. The fleeing Pennsylvania Militia did not even take the time to recover the items from their encampment from the night before the battle. It took four to ten days for all of the militia soldiers to return to Fort Littleton.

Upon his report to the Lieutenant Governor, Armstrong reported seventeen of his mean dead, thirteen wounded, and nineteen missing. Armstrong also reported that it was difficult to know how many Delaware had been killed. Armstrong estimated that there were no less than 30 to 40 killed. Armstrong’s managed to also free several captives from the village, though a few of them were lost in the hasty retreat.

Armstrong was greeted as a hero upon his return to Philadelphia. Armstrong was given 600 pounds for the bringing Captain Jacobs head back to Philadelphia with him and was also given a commemorative medal for his attack on Kit-han-nee. A fort would be built at the site of the battle and called Fort Armstrong. In 1800, Pennsylvania created a new county which today encompasses Kittanning, the county would be named for Armstrong as well.

Sources:

Barr, Daniel P. “Victory at Kittanning? Reevaluating the Impact of Armstrong’s Raid on the Seven Years’ War in Pennsylvania.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 131, no. 1 (2007): 5-32. Accessed January 18, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20093915.

https://www.pabook.libraries.psu.edu/literary-cultural-heritage-map-pa/feature-articles/win-lose-or-draw-battle-kittanning

newspapers.com/clip/21224681/reward_for_shingas_and_captain_jacobs/

Logstown

On the banks of the Ohio River in what is now Baden, PA (Beaver County), 15-18 miles northwest of Pittsburgh PA, once stood a town of as many as 80 structures called Logstown. This small town would host visitors from British and French as well as meetings between native tribes and representatives from the French and British governments. Logstown is believed to have been established in the early to mid 1740’s.

In 1748, Conrad Weiser, a German settler from Eastern Pennsylvania visited Logstown. Weiser was a well known interpreter of Native American languages. Upon Weiser’s arrival he was greeted by the natives firing muskets in the air to welcome him. Weiser worked as a diplomat and negotiator between the Native nations and the Pennsylvania colony. Weiser’s visit was to bring gifts and maintain the friendship between Penn’s British Colony and those who lived at Logstown including members of the Leni Lanape (Delaware), Shawnee, Seneca-Cayuga, Miami, Mohawk, and Wyandot. After the arrival of Europeans, many tribes were pushed to the west and many other died from diseases that came with the Europeans that previously had not existed on the continent.

In 1749, Ensign Celeron de Blainville led a French Military expedition down the Allegheny River and onto the Ohio River to explore and map the area as French territory. In their travels, Blainville buried lead markers marking the areas his group explored as French Territory. Blainville was not happy to find British traders present at Logstown, nor was he happy to find that the native people within the camp were also loyal to the British whom they had been trading with. Blainville and his men, including a Jesuit priest named Joseph Pierre Bonnecomps stayed at Logstown for three tense days, then continued on their journey.

Blainville’s Expedition – WV Encyclopedia

In 1752, Treaty Negotiation were held between British representatives including Christopher Gist who was well known to the people at Logstown and was there representing the Ohio Company, Colonel Joshua Fry, James Patton, and Lunsford Lomax representing the Virginia Colony. Andrew Montour attended as a translator for the Virginians. Tanacharison also known as Half-King spoke as one of the representatives of the Iroquois Confederacy. Tanacharison stated his people did not consider that the 1744 Anglo-Iroquois Treaty of Lancaster had ceded the colonists any land beyond the Allegheny Mountains, but he promised the Iroquois would not molest any English settlements southeast of the Ohio River. Tanacharison also formally requested a fort to be built at the Forks of the Ohio. Construction of which was started by Captain William Trent of the Ohio Company in February of 1754. The limited parts of the fort that had been built were taken by the French in April of 1754. There is a great deal of information on the treaty and negotiations here.

“Log Town” Map – Explorepahistory.com

Logstown was much more than a trading post along the Ohio River. The rivers were the highways of the time period, each of these stops whether they were native, settler or military were important to trade and travel. Logstown became very important to diplomacy in the colonies.

Sources:

Ohio History Central: http://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Logstown

Logstown Treaty: http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/lewisandclark/students/projects/adventurers/logstowntreaty.html

Explore PA History: http://www.explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-210

Treaties Portal: http://treatiesportal.unl.edu/earlytreaties/treaty.00004.html

Mummery: Now and Then

On New Year’s Day in Philadelphia a very grand parade happens. The costumes for those in the parade are extravagant, some can even put Mardi Gras costumes to shame. The Tradition in Philadelphia began January 1 , 1901. The purpose of the parade is to welcome in the new year.

Philadelphia’s Parade has five different divisions and can have several groups in each of those divisions. The “Fancy” category is just that, the costumes are colorful and sometimes outrageous with sequins, feathers and structures to make the costumes larger than life. The” Comic” division is all about clowning around, The mummers can dress as modern cartoons, poke fun at politicians, or just about anything to get a laugh. The “Wench Brigade” division is an offshoot of the comic division, these groups tend to have painted faces, decorated umbrellas and wear bloomers as part of their costume, They are also known for having Brass Bands that accompany them. The “String Band” division is made up of costumed musicians with a unique sound, Most of the music is composed by the group themselves and the instruments include; banjos, cellos, violins, fiddles, drums, glockenspiels and saxophones. The last division is the “Fancy Brigade,” who perform in competition after the parade is over at the convention center and have elaborate routines and costumes to go along with their presentation each year.

The Mummer traditions however did not start in Philadelphia however, Mummery has a very long history and comes in many different forms. Mummery or Mumming simply means to wear a mask. The traditions of modern mummery and the modern theatre are based in ancient mummery which by some has been traced back to the second century BCE in in North Africa and Europe. Actors were known to dress up and reenact religious events at festivals celebrating various gods or epic battles to celebrate a king, emperor or chieftain. Mummery would also spread to other important European Pagan festivals prior to Christian influence like: Yule (Winter Solstice), Mid Winter/Imbolc (fertility celebration, February 1) Spring (Mayday/ Beltane), Midsummer Summer Solstice (June 21-22), Lughnasadh/ Lammas (August 1, The harvest of wheat), Samhain/Halloween/ All Souls Day (October 31, The end of the Harvest).

During the spread of Christianity the Pagan traditions were often adopted as part of the Christian Holy Days that were placed at the times of prior Pagan celebrations. Much of the modern tradition of mummery comes as part of modern holidays/holy days.

Mumming in Ireland has many traditions usually done in and around the Yule/ Christmas season. Hanner’s Chronicle describes King Henry III’s celebration of Christmas in Dublin in 1172 as “…the sport, and the mirth, and the continual musicke, the masking, the mumming and strange shewes, the gold, the silver, and plate, the precious ornaments, the dainty dishes….” At Christmas time in Ireland, Mummers sometime perform plays or sometimes go door to door looking for food or drink, they are usually accompanied by musicians. The come to the door and sing a song much like this one:

Here we stand before your door,
As we stood the year before;
Give us whiskey; give us gin,
Open the door and let us in.

Cure I can for a noble fee,
From your complaint, I’ll set you free.
I can cure by day and night
I can diagnose by sight.
The plague it is no pague to me
Get it, kind sir, and I’ll set you free.

God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
May your barns be filled with wheat and corn
And your hearts be always true.
A merry Christmas is our wish
Where’er we do appear;
To you a well-filled purse, a well-filled dish
And a happy, bright New Year.

Corn Mummers – Part of the Irish Mummer Tradition

Strawmen and Straw-women are another interesting part of Irish mummery. These mummers go out at all times of the year, but only to weddings. Taking their name from their disguise Straw-people are an ancient wedding tradition the origins of which are unclear.  Straw-people are recognisable by their uniquely shaped conical straw hats and dress and, despite their title, nowadays comprise both men and women.

In England, Mummer tend to come out at Christmas time. It is common for the mummers to reenact the battle between St. George and the Dragon, but also plays of winter and rebirth following the traditional yule mummery.

Mummers in England

In Scotland Mummery is popular for New Year’s Eve (Hogmanay) and Beltane/ Mayday. Hogmanay rose after Oliver Cromwell banned celebrations on Christmas because Cromwell felt that Christmas should be a more pius holiday. So the Scots began to celebrate the new year with mummery, bonfires and giant celebrations. On Beltane there are fire festivals with rather extravagant mummery during the festival.

In Wales, between Yule and the new year you may get visited by the Mari Lwyd (The Gray Mare). the Mari Lwyd is thought to be a pre-Christian tradition believed to bring good luck. The strange and frightening horse-figure, that in the past was often made from a horses skull, but now mostly artificial, was mounted upon a pole.  Accompanied by a group of singers the Mari Lwyd knocks on the door and the first verse of a traditional song is sung. This would in turn be answered in song by the person in the house. After a number of verses had been exchanged, the Mari Lwyd singers would then be invited into the house and provided with food and drink before leaving with a farewell song.

The Mari Lwyd in Wales

Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada also have a strong tradition of mummery around the Christmas holiday. Mummers will go door to door ask if they are allowed to come in and sing a song for the homeowner, have a drink and move on to the next. In St. John’s Newfoundland there is a large parade of mummers making music and walking in strange costumes.

The Mummer’s Festival in St. John’s Newfoundland

Sources:

Philadelphia Mummers – http://phillymummers.com/about-us/

Mumming – A Yuletide Tradition – https://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/ACalend/Mummers.html

Irish Mummers- https://www.sligoheritage.com/archmummers.htm

Mari Lwyd, Wales – https://www.transceltic.com/blog/mysterious-welsh-tradition-of-mari-lwyd

Medieval Mummers – https://www.medievalchronicles.com/medieval-people/medieval-entertainers/medieval-mummers/

Letters Home at Christmas Time

Below are letters from soldiers to their families during the holidays. The letters themselves may not always portray the holiday spirit itself. During the American Revolution, December the 25th, while celebrated was not celebrated in the American Colonies they way it may have been celebrated in Europe. On Christmas 1776, Continental Troops took advantage of the holiday to execute a sneak attack against Hessian mercenaries fighting on the British side.

This letter is from Thomas Rodney to his brother Caesar, written in Allen’s Town, New Jersey, December 30, 1776.

Sir—I wrote you a long letter on the 24th, which I had no opportunity of sending, and left it in my trunk at Mr. Coxe’s, two miles from Bristol; it contains the news to that time, which I cannot repeat here. On the 25th inst. in the evening, we received orders to be at Shamony ferry as soon as possible. We were there according to orders in two hours, and met the riflemen, who were the first from Bristol; we were ordered from thence to Dunk’s ferry, on the Delaware, and the whole army of about 2000 men followed, as soon as the artillery got up. The three companies of Philadelphia infantry and mine were formed into a body, under the command of captain Henry, (myself second in command) which were embarked immediately to cover the landing of the troops. We landed with great difficulty through the ice, and formed on the ferry shore, about 200 yards from the river. It was as severe a night as ever I saw, and after two battalions were landed, the storm increased so much, and the river was so full of ice, that it was impossible to get the artillery over; for we had to walk 100 yards on the ice to get on shore. Gen. Cadwallader therefore ordered the whole to retreat again, and we had to stand at least six hours under arms—first to cover the landing and till all the rest had retreated again—and, by this time, the storm of wind, hail, rain and snow, with the ice, was so bad, that some of the infantry could not get back till next day. This design was to have surprised the enemy at Black Horse and Mount Holley, at the same time that Washington surprised them at Trenton; and had we succeeded in getting over, we should have finished all our troubles. Washington took 910 prisoners, with 6 pieces of fine artillery, and all their baggage in Trenton. The next night I received orders to be in Bristol before day; we were there accordingly, and about 9 o’clock began to embark one mile above Bristol, and about 3 o’clock in the afternoon got all our troops and artillery over, consisting of about 3000 men, and began our march to Burlington—the infantry, flanked by the riflemen, making the advanced guard. We got there about 9 o’clock and took possession of the town, but found the enemy had made precipitate retreat the day before, bad as the weather was, in a great panic. The whole infantry and riflemen were then ordered to set out that night and make a forced march to Bordentown, (which was about 11 miles), which they did, and took possession of the town about 9 o’clock, with a large quantity of the enemy’s stores, which they had not time to carry off. We stayed there till the army came up; and the general finding the enemy were but a few miles ahead, ordered the infantry to proceed to a town called Croswick’s four miles from Bordentown, and they were followed by one of the Philadelphia and one of the New England battalions. We got there about 8 o’clock, and at about 10, (after we were all in quarters), were informed that the enemy’s baggage was about 16 miles from us, under a guard of 300 men. Some of the militia colonels applied to the infantry to make a forced march that night and overhaul them. We had then been on duty four nights and days, making forced marches, without six hours sleep in the whole time; whereupon the infantry officers of all the companies unanimously declared it was madness to attempt, for that it would knock up all our brave men, not one of whom had yet gave out, but every one will suppose were much fatigued. They then sent off a party who were fresh, but they knocked up before they got up with them, and came back and met us at this town next morning. They surrounded a house where there was six tories—took three of them—one got off—and one who ran and would not stop, was shot dead. They gave him warning first by calling, and at last shot two bullets over his head, but he still persisted, and the next two shot; one bullet went through his arm and one through his heart. The enemy have fled before us in the greatest panic that ever was known; we heard this moment that they have fled from Princeton, and that they were hard pressed by Washington. Never were men in higher spirits than our whole army is; none are sick, and all are determined to extirpate them from the Jersey, but I believe the enemy’s fears will do it before we get up with them. The Hessians, from the general to the common soldier, curse and imprecate the war, and swear they were sent here to be slaughtered; that they never will leave New York again, till they sail for Europe. Jersey will be the most whiggish colony on the continent; the very Quakers declare for taking up arms. You cannot imagine the distress of this country. They have stripped every body almost without distinction—even of all their clothes, and have beat and abused men, women and children, in the most cruel manner ever heard of. We have taken a number of prisoners, in our route, Hessians and British, to the amount of about twenty. It seems likely through the blessing of Providence, that we shall retake Jersey again without the loss of a man, except one gen. Washington lost at Trenton. The enemy seem to be bending their way to Amboy with all speed, but I hope we shall come up with the Princeton baggage yet, and also get a share of their large stores at Brunswick. I hope if I live, to see the conquest of Jersey, and set off home again in two weeks. Some of my men have complained a little, but not to say sick; they are all now well here. Thomas Rodney

Washington Crossing the Delaware – Mort Kunstler

The next letter is from Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury and a member of the peace delegation who met with the British and on Christmas Eve 1814 signed the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812, bringing a message of peace at Christmas time, although the last battle of the war would take place after the treaty was signed.

Ghent, December 25, 1814

Sir – The treaty of peace we signed yesterday with the British ministers is, in my opinion, as favorable as could be expected under existing circumstances, so far as they were known to us. The attitude taken by the State of Massachusetts, and the appearances in some of the neighboring States, had a most unfavorable effect. Of the probable result of the congress at Vienna we had no correct information. The views of all the European powers were precisely known from day to day to the British Ministry. From neither of them did we in any shape receive any intimation of their intentions, of the general prospect of Europe, or of the interest they took in our contest with Great Britain. I have some reason to believe that all of them were desirous that it might continue. They did not intend to assist us; they appeared indifferent about our difficulties; but they rejoiced at anything which might occupy and eventually weaken our enemy. The manner in which the campaign has terminated, the evidence afforded by its events of our ability to resist alone the now very formidable military power of England, and our having been able, without any foreign assistance, and after she had made such an effort, to obtain peace on equal terms, will raise our character and consequence in Europe. This, joined with the naval victories and the belief that we alone can fight the English on their element, will make us to be courted as much as we have been neglected by foreign governments. As to the people of Europe, public opinion was most decidedly in our favor. I anticipate a settlement with Spain on our own terms, and the immediate chastisement of the Algerines. Permit me to suggest the propriety of despatching a squadron for that purpose without losing a single moment. I have little to add to our public despatch on the subject of the terms of the treaty. I really think that there is nothing but nominal in the Indian article as adopted. With respect to precedents, you will find two, though neither is altogether in point, the article of the Treaty of Utrecht, and the latter part of the article of our  treaty with Spain. You know that there was no alternative between breaking off the negotiations and accepting the article, and that we accepted it only as provisional and subject to your approbation or rejection. The exception of Moose Island from the general restoration of territory is the only point on which it is possible that we might have obtained an alteration if we had adhered to our opposition to it. The British government had long fluctuated on the question of peace: a favorable account from Vienna, the report of some success in the Gulf of Mexico, or any other incident, might produce a change in their disposition; they had already, after the question had been referred to them, declared that they could not consent to a relinquishment of that point. We thought it too hazardous to risk the peace on the question of the temporary possession of that small island, since the question of title was fully reserved, and it was therefore no cession of territory. On the subject of the fisheries within the jurisdiction of Great Britain, we have certainly done all that could be done. If, according to the construction of the treaty of 1783, which we assumed, the right was not abrogated by the war, it remains entire, since we most explicitly refused to renounce it directly or indirectly. In that case it is only an unsettled subject of difference between the two countries. If the right must be considered as abrogated by the war, we cannot regain it without an equivalent. We had none to give but the recognition of their right to navigate the Mississippi, and we offered it on this last supposition. This right is also lost to them, and in a general point of view we have certainly lost nothing. But we have done all that was practicable in support of the right to those fisheries, 1, by the ground we assumed respecting the construction of the treaty of 1783; 2, by the offer to recognize the British right to the navigation of the Mississippi; 3, by refusing to accept from Great Britain both her implied renunciation to the right of that navigation and the convenient boundary of 49 degrees for the whole extent of our and her territories west of the Lake of the Woods, rather than to make an implied renunciation on our own part to the right of America to those particular fisheries. I believe that Great Britain is very desirous of obtaining the northern part of Maine, say from  about 47 north latitude to the northern extremity of that district as claimed by us. They hope that the river which empties into Bay des Chaleurs, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, has its source so far west as to intervene between the head-waters of the river St. John and those of the streams emptying into the river St. Lawrence: so that the line north from the source of the river St. Croix will first strike the heights of land which divide the waters emptying into the Atlantic Ocean (river St. John’s) from those emptying into the Gulf of St. Lawrence (River des Chaleurs), and afterwards the heights of land which divide the waters emptying into the Gulf of St. Lawrence (River des Chaleurs) from those emptying into the river St. Lawrence; but that the said line never can, in the words of the treaty, strike any spot of land actually dividing the waters emptying into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the river St. Lawrence. Such will be the foundation of their disputing our claim to the northern part of that territory; but, feeling that it is not very solid, I am apt to think that they will be disposed to offer the whole of Passamaquoddy Bay and the disputed fisheries as an equivalent for this portion of northern territory, which they want in order to connect New Brunswick and Quebec. This may account for their tenacity with respect to the temporary possession of Moose Island, and for their refusing to accept the recognition of their right to the navigation of the Mississippi, provided they recognized ours to the fisheries. That northern territory is of no importance to us, and belongs to the United States, and not to Massachusetts, which has not the shadow of a claim to any land north of 45 to the eastward of the Penobscot River, as you may easily convince yourself of by recurring to her charters. – A. Gallatin

Albert Gallatin – Metropolitan Museum

The next letter is a letter home from Lieutenant Andrew Davis to his daughters. Lt. Davis was an officer in the 15th Indiana Infantry, Company I, stationed at Camp Wickliffe, Kentucky. (Caution should be given, Lt. Davis uses a racist slur referring to a cook)

Camp Wycliff Ky.
December 25th 1861

Miss Orrilla Davis and Nan Davis

My dear little daughters,

This is Christmas night and no doubt while I am setting in my tent in a war camp, you are enjoying yourselves at the Christmas Supper which I understand you are having at the Court House. No doubt you are enjoying yourselves over your Christmas presents and I hope Santa Claus in his rambles last night did not miss the Stockings of my two little girls but put something nice in them to make them happy. I got a Christmas present this evening which was nothing more than a letter from my dear little girl, and I now hasten to answer it. I was very sorry to hear that our sweet little babe was so sick but I hope it is getting well before this time and no doubt but what I will next hear that you and Nan will both have the measels and if you do you must be patient and you will soon get well again. I was surprised that you could write so good a letter & I read it to some of the boys and they said it contained more news than one half of the letters that they got from Liberty.

We did not have to drill today consequently I do not feel as tired as I do some nights. I will tell you what we had to eat today as you no doubt would like to know. Well we had roast chicken, oysters, peach pie, dried beef, molasses, brisket, butter, crackers, milk, sweet potatoes, rice, eggs &c. So you see we did not starve. It was not cooked as nice as your mother could cook it but it was very good. We bought most of it from country people and they sell them cheap enough if they were only cooked good but they are poor people who bring them and they have to cook them by the fire in skillets as they have no cook stoves. Stuffed chickens ready cooked are worth 20 & 25 cts, pies 10 cts, cabbage 5 cts apples 6 for 5 cts. milk 10 cts pr qt. roast turkies 75 and 80 cts. Sweet potatoes 75 cts per bushel, and many other things about the same. Jo Miller is in my tent while I am writing and almost cried when he read your letter. George [Rinehart?] come back from the Hospital today and is nearly well again. All of the Liberty boys are well now and none of them are at Louisville now.

I send with this letter 2 papers which I want you to take to Mr Thomas for him to publish in the Herald. I want to know if you are going to go to School this winter I gave $2.50 for the picture I sent home to your mother and the one I sent to your Grandpa, Tell mother if she can get the two big pictures framed for $5.00 to get it done but not to give any more than that. It is the prettyest sight I ever saw to go out of out tents after night before the lights are put out as our camp is on hilly ground and there is several hundred tents in camp and all with lights in them which makes them look like big lanterns scattered all over the country. Tell your ma I am glad she has got her hogs killed but I am afraid she will work so hard that she will be sick again. I got weighed today and weighed 167 lbs without my coat on so you see I am well and getting fat. Tell Nan I mean this letter for you and her both and I want her to get in some sly corner and write me one some of these days. Tell ma and uncle Newton that I have not got a newspaper from them since I have been Kentucky. Wm Appleton got last weeks Herald tonight and I got to read it. The darkie I had to cook for me went home today and one of the soldiers is cooking for me now. Ab. Bennett was to see me this evening and is going home in the morning. I am glad to hear that Wally Smith has been promoted to Sergeant as it proves that he has been a good soldier. Mans Crist is Sergeant in our company now.

The drums are now beating for us to put out the lights so I must stop for this time but will write to some of you again this week. You must write to me often as that is the way to learn, and you don’t know how glad it makes me to get a letter from my dear little girls.

No more this time from your affectionate father,
A.F. Davis

Christmas in Camp – Harper’s Weekly 1862 (Thomas Nast – Artist)

The next letter was written by a British Soldier during World War I, it is written during the Christmas Truce of 1914, which is now pretty well known because of the pleasantries exchanged between British and German troops.

Christmas Day, 1914

My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!

As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.

But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.

And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!

Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.

Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.

Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.

During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.

I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.

“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”

And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.

And then we heard their voices raised in song.

Christmas Day, 1914

My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!

As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.

But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.

And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!

Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.

Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.

Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.

During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.

I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.

“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”

And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.

And then we heard their voices raised in song. Stille nacht, heilige nacht.

This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.

When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in. The first nowell, the angels did day. In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another. O Tannenbaum, O tannenbaum.

In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another. O come all ye faithful, but this time they joined in, singing the words in Latin, Adeste fidelis.

British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.

“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”

There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”

To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land. One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”

I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth!

“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”

Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!

Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.

Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.

“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”

“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.

He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I told him, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”

He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.

Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I said I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.

Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.

Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”

Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?

As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some talk of a football match.

I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”

I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”

He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”

And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?

For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.

Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?

All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.

Your loving brother, Tom

British and German Soldiers Together – Christmas Truce 1914 – Smithsonian Magazine

We hope you enjoy reading through these letters and the history they provide. I wish you all the best Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate. May the new year bring you peace, joy and a continued love of history!

Sources:

Revolutionary War Letter – From Alden T. Vaughn, ed., Chronicles of the American Revolution (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1965). Originally compiled by Hezekiah Niles and printed in 1822.

War of 1812 Letter – From the Writings of Albert Gallatin, Volume 1, https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/gallatin-the-writings-of-albert-gallatin-vol-1

Civil War Letter – University of Iowa, https://blog.lib.uiowa.edu/studio/2011/12/22/a-civil-war-christmas-letter/

World War I Letter – World Beyond War – https://worldbeyondwar.org/christmas-truce-letter/