Teaching with 1777 - Danbury on Fire!
This all-ages story deals with facts as they were in 1777, obviously far different from today.
While not condoning drinking, readers must understand the complexity of a world where polluted water risked your life.
No blood is spilled in the book. Nothing truly graphic is presented. The only oath is "Good God in Heaven!"
This story contains reference to seizure of property and thievery becoming confused.
The British are not represented as evil, but as more-or-less pleasant people on a mission where details aren't all that meaningful.
Lying is condoned when relating to personal safety.
Ads for this book hint that a soldier has evil intentions toward a boy: this is a false lead.
Here’s the Story:
Joe Hamilton, 13, wants a tavern kitchen job, but his parents’ rejection of the American Revolution causes Joe to be declined for jobs in his hometown of Danbury CT. Isaiah is a schoolyard bully who believes in the war and plans to enlist. His description of promised financial advantages of enlistment bounties causes the schoolyard crowd to blink in amazement. Unfortunately, those plans include robbing Joe's family. Joe follows his parents’ pacifist beliefs and shows no interest in the war. Another boy tells Joe that he will yield his own kitchen job, as he plans to apprentice. Just what Joe wants!
Historical Background: This is still the start of the Revolution. And that start has not been good. Tiny victories and huge losses. The final loss of New York City stretched all summer and into November of 1776, when Ft Lee and Ft. Washington were lost. Then came the agony of Valley Forge. In the spring of 1777, the militia had all come home and many men planned to stay there. The major players in the Continental Army were desperate for men. Desparate enought to pay them. Desparate enought to force them.
Vocabulary (in the order of appearance in the text)
sow: adult female pig "My family owns two sows."
patriot: one who believes in separating America from England: by violence if necessary. "John Adams was a Patriot."
loyalist or Tory: one who believes that America should continue belonging to England "Mr. Knap in the story is a Loyalist."
fuming: expressing anger "He frowned and fumed as he left the schoolyard."
pacifist: one who opposes war "My parents are pacifists."
investment: a purchase of something that should increase in value "The two sows are an investment."
ammunition: bullets or cannon balls "The Patriot militia did not have enough ammunition."
claw up: steal "Isaiah is proud that he can claw up a gun whenever he wants."
confiscation: what the Patriots called taking items necessary for the army or militia "The Patriots confiscated my horse."
preen: using expressions and body language showing pride in one's self "Isaiah preened in front of the girls."
bounty: amount paid by a government for a soldier to enlist "The Patriots started to pay large bounties."
pounds: British unit of money. "Eight pounds might buy a normal riding horse."
substitute: If a person was drafted but could not serve as a soldier, he could "purchase" a substitute by paying the prospect.
stallion: adult male horse "That stallion bites!"
rearing: a dangerous habit of a horse standing on its hind legs "Sometimes a rearing horse falls over backwards."
heft: lift "I tried to heft the suitcase, but it was too heavy."
pacing: pacing horses or ponies do not trot; both left legs step, then both right legs step "Driving horses may be pacers."
pony: small horse "My pony is too small for an adult to ride."
ale: light beer "That old ale is spoiled and should be thrown out."
caw: raspy cry of crows "Cawing crows sound terrible."
exhilaration: great joy "Joe leaped in the air from exhilaration."
garner: gethold of or receive, as in "He tried to garner some money."
pence: Britsh penny "It cost four pence."
Never Enough Quotes: Brigadier Gen. David Wooster to Gen. Washiongton, New Haven CT March 28, 1777
R.I.P. Danbury CT.
"I am very sorry to find, the Quota of Men to be raised in This State, for The Continental Army, so far from being Compleated; and very much fear that thereby, Your Excellency will be prevented from taking the Field, with signal Advantage; untill The Spring shall be far advanced.
To John Adams from Nathanael Greene, 2 May 1777
I most sincerely lament the great inattention and indifference that appears among the People in general about the recruiting the Army. I live in hopes that a better Spirit will prevail soon—if not, I hope the drafting from the Militia and exempting all those from the Militia service that procures a recruit will go near to fill the Army.
Letter Gen. George Washington to CT Governor Trumbull 2-1-1777
Check out this confusion where CT Is offering over twice as much bounty for the state militia as the Continentals!
Each colony had a colony-level militia, but the town had local militias, too. Notice GW speaks in dollars, but Isaiah spoke in pounds. What a confusion!
I should have had no objection to appointing Colo. Root to the command of a Regiment, could it possibly be raised upon the terms allowed by Congress, which is a bounty of twenty Dollars; but by your State and that of Massachusetts having given an additional bounty of 33⅓ Dollars, not a man can be raised till the eight Regiments allotted to your State are full... I was under the strongest hopes that they, from their influence, would have soon filled their Regiments, but I cannot suppose that men will enlist, for a bounty of twenty Dollars, with them, when they can get 53⅓ from this State. I have the Honor to be with Esteem & Regard Sir your most obedient Servant
1. Do the boys have new respect for Isaiah after his speech?
2. Why is Joe not interested in the war?
3. Would you sign up after the Patriots had suffered big losses and you knew that death lurked not far away?
Here’s the Story: DFespite the setup by his friend, Joe meets job rejection again because of his parents' politics. He discovers that his parents have paid heavy fines for not attending church as a political protest. With no government social services, the churches bear the whole burden of war victims: those who don't contribute to church face social blank walls in the small town. Joe is publicly embarrassed in front of the tavern customers when he tries to order: his family’s account has been cancelled for non-payment.
Historical background: In New England at this time, most churches were either Congregational or Anglican (Episcopalian). The Congregational Churches controlled town organization. Most published items were written by Congregational ministers, because many of them had the skillset, having been to university. At this point, Episcopal ministers kept silent because they could be ejected fromtheir towns - and many were leaving the Congregational Church with more local power than before. Congregational minister who were not in favor of the war were removed by their congregations (as happened to one of the book's characters). Nineteen men from the Danbury militia were seized at the fall of Ft. Washington. Two returned. This left many families in severe need of help. The Patriot ecenomic policies had affected everyone, making them too poor to do so.
countenance: face "His countance bore the signs of misery."
Sandemanians: a Christian sect that had landed in Danbury some years before. "When Mr. Sandeman died, a former Congregational Church minister headed up the Sandemanian church, which opposed the war."
renegade: someone opposed to normal social conventions "He's a renegade when it comes to going along with the crowd."
blacksmith: person who works with iron, especially one who shoes horses "Blacksmiths charge a lot to shoe a horse!"
slop: the wet food garbage from a kitchen; also a verb, as in feeding slop. "I took the sloppail to the barn and slopped the pigs."
Never enough Quotes:
Library of Congress: Religion and the Founding of the American Republic https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel03.html
Religion played a major role in the American Revolution by offering a moral sanction for opposition to the British--an assurance to the average American that revolution was justified in the sight of God. As a recent scholar has observed, "by turning colonial resistance into a righteous cause, and by crying the message to all ranks in all parts of the colonies, ministers did the work of secular radicalism and did it better."
1. Joe's parents have hidden truths from him and now persons outside the family reveal what Joe should already know. Has that ever happened to you? Which one did you feel most, hurt or angry?
2. Is Mrs. Clark really acting like a witch or is she just a normal business-person? Would this situation have happened to her only this once or many times?
3. How would Joe feel to realize that his father has suffered similar humiliation in local businesses? And that his mother had sent him on an errand, perhaps knowing what would happen?
Here’s the Story: Walking home, Joe encounters his grandfather and uncles, who try to lure him into returning to the family farm: in other words, to run away from his parents.
Joe’s grandfather, Capt. Silas Hamilton, reveals that Joe’s father will be "going on a trip." He tells Joe to wake up to what is happening in the world. With no cause, Joe imagines that the "trip" is to rescue his mother’s cousin Jonah who was imprisoned in New York by the British.
Joe then meets his hero, Lambert Lockwood, a war veteran at 20. Lockwood tells Joe that two men have come to town and are telling strange tales. Lockwood is unsure what is true but implies that the men are lying.
Historical Background: The letter at the top of the page was part of Jonah's pension application after the war. The British took him prisoner at Ft. Washington. When Capt. Benedict went back with money, the British must not have known where Jonah was. (They usually released men when ransom was paid.) Joe hopes that his father's supposed rescue of Jonah will improves the Patriots' opinion of his family.
militia: local troops used by the Patriot army for short term assignments "Uncle John is in the militia."
fostering: to approve and aid "My grandfather fosters the ideal of outlawing slavery."
equine: related to horses "Veterinarians study equine medicine"
yestereve: old time expression for yesterday evening "Yestereve, you didn't come to church."
rangy: slim, with long limbs "A rangy horse can be very fast."
shod: to have shoes or have shoes applied "Capt. Hamilton won't pay to have the horse shod."
enticing: luring or appealing "The smell of ham pie was most enticing."
tricorn: a hat with the brim turned up to make the hat have three corners. "General Arnold wore a tricorn."
shins: front of the leg bones below the knees. "The pony kicked him in the shins."
Never Enough Quotes:
General George Washington to Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. Head Quarters Morris Town 29th March 1777
General Arnold also says in a letter of the 11th instant, that ten Transports, appearing full of Troops, passed point Judith, to the westward, on the 4th. This also looks as if a collection of Troops was making at New York for some purpose or other.
1. Did you ever find logical reasons for things and then find out that "possible" is not the same as true?
2. If you were Joe, would you choose to check out the promised gun and horse at the first opportunity?
3. What are your first impressions of Paul Hamilton and Joe's grandfather, Silas Hamilton, Sr.?