As we followed the East Coast we were able to visit some of the most important historic areas that were key to the development of the United States. Here are some of the most interesting areas in historical order. I have added my own commentary to the events..... which could get interesting....
Jamestown Colony VA
On December 6, 1606, a journey to Virginia began on three ships: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. In 1607, 104 English men and boys arrived in North America to start a settlement. On May 13 they picked Jamestown, Virginia for their settlement, which was named after their King, James I. The settlement became the first permanent English settlement in North America.
To say it was a rough existence is putting it mildly. The voyage alone across the Atlantic in such small ships was a significant challenge. Then imagine being put ashore with no civilization to rely on. Every day was a fight for survival. This needs to be considered as we move further in to the life of the United States. The early colonies were a bastion of self-reliance and mutual support. There was virtually no support from mother England.
The death tolls were high. They were dying from swellings, fluxes, fevers, by famine, and sometimes by wars. Food was running low, though then Native Chief Powhatan starting to send gifts of food to help the English. If not for the Powhatan Indians help in the early years, the settlement would most likely have failed, as the English would have died from the various diseases or simply starved. As a result they ate anything they could: various animals, leather from their shoes and belts, and sometimes fellow settlers who had already died. By early 1610 most of the settlers, 80-90%, had died due to starvation and disease.
On July 30, 1619, the newly appointed Governor called for the first representative legislative assembly. This was the beginning of representative government in what is now the United States of America.
In 1676 the settlers were unhappy about their tobacco being sold only to English merchants due to the Navigation Acts, high taxes, and attacks on outlying plantations by American Indians on the frontiers. The beginnings of rebellion had been seeded.
The Shot Heard Round the World - Concord Massachusetts
Fast forward almost 100 years and we find the colonies much better developed. Cities and towns have developed along the entire East Coast of America. It continues to be a tough existence, but civilization has definitely arrived. There is considerably more support from the English homeland, but the colonists continue to be self-reliant. Particularly in the Northeast around Boston. The seeds of rebellion have grown in to small saplings. There is growing resentment of the English homeland which is perceived to be taking more than they are giving to the colonists. The colonists are beginning to push back. In most cases they simply want to be left alone to focus on their own interests without meddling and taxes from England. They start to arm themselves as England presses for order.
England repeals many of the taxes, but retains the taxes on tea resulting in the colonists having a "Boston Tea Party". In return England closes the port of Boston and strips Massachusetts of its self government. The locals then create "Minute Men" militias designed to respond to England's aggression at a moments notice. The match is now lit for a full blown rebellion.
On April 19th, 1775 the match touches powder and the Revolutionary War begins.
The British army crosses the Charles River from Boston and marches towards Lexington and Concord where they intend to confiscate weapons and arrest troublemakers. The locals are warned by riders Paul Revere, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott that the British army is on the move. 76 Minutemen meet the British army at Lexington green. Refusing orders to disperse they are fired upon and eight colonists are killed.
The British Army continues on to Concord where they burn weapons and military supplies they find. But the militia men think the British are burning homes. The militia advances to confront them at the North Bridge.
The British army fires first and two colonists are killed. A fateful decision is made and the colonists fire back, a treasonous move that is known as "The shot heard round the world". The British army begins marching back to Boston, but are met with a running battle and skirmishes the entire way back. In the end, 49 colonists and 73 British soldiers were dead.
Some things that struck me while walking the area was the audacity shown by the local colonists. At the time the British Army was the most powerful in the world. They were well trained, armed and seasoned. In contrast the colonials were farmers, tailors, and local merchants, not soldiers. Facing uncertain futures of increasing taxes and fading liberty they gathered to defend their way of life, their freedom and their children's future. But they risked everything with their actions.
It is important to understand that at the time everyone was British. The British army was not a foreign invading force. They were a police force there to keep the troublesome colonists in line. And at least half or more of the colonists were fully loyal to the crown and were not looking for trouble. It was the few that led the colonies to openly defy the King.
The British army knew that an armed militia was dangerous. Had they not been armed US history would be radically different. Our second amendment was formed based on this knowledge. An unarmed populace is a compliant one. Our founders specifically retained the right for citizens to defend their liberty against a government who ignored those rights with arms if necessary. It was not about hunting.....
Philadelphia, PA - Independence Hall & The Declaration of Independence
With the rebellion in full bloom around the Boston area a full war with the colonies was not yet started. Most of the colonies and the people in them were not happy with what England was doing, but were a far cry from open rebellion. Following the actions of the Minute Men in Massachusetts each colony sent representatives to Philadelphia to discuss what might happen next. There was no mood for an open war with England. Most of the representatives were simply trying to find a way to keep both sides happy. To that end they sent a letter to the King explaining their grievances and asking for consideration and relief. The response was stunningly blunt. Essentially it was "I am King, your are my servants, obey or die".
Now the representatives were grasping the gravity of the situation. They could sit back and take it or fight. They were not blind. They could see their chances of defeating the British Army were very slim. But the thought of losing their Liberty and Freedom was untenable. The time had come to make a stand and it called for a statement that would be unmistakable to anyone who read it. It required a Declaration of Independence.
In this room the representatives of the British Colonies in America crafted and then signed a document that was clearly treason. They were risking everything with only a slim chance of success. In particular these men would put their lives, the lives of their families, their homes, their property, their fortunes..... everything they held dear in jeopardy for a chance at true freedom. In addition they were committing the colonies as a whole to a course that could end in disaster. Again, I am in awe at the audacity that they thought they could actually pull it off.
And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
Our country was formed on the thinnest of threads. As we will cover in a blog on the Civil War it survived based on movements of men over yards of ground in pivotal battles that could have easily gone either way. It is truly unique in the history of mankind. A country that is governed by the people with a Constitution designed to limit the power of government is almost unheard of. It has surely never happened on the scale of the United States. But as we see based on current events this idea and the rights and freedoms it represents are also easily lost. Will we have people with the audacity of the Minute Men or the writers of the Declaration of Independence when the time comes? I sure hope so.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government,
For those who have not been to some of these historic sites, please go. Get past the myths, soak it in and really understand what it means. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if you could have done it. Which side would you have been on? It is not a question easily answered honestly...
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience has shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature; a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing, with manly firmness, his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.
He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.
He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us;
For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states;
For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world;
For imposing taxes on us without our consent;
For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;
For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses;
For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries, so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these colonies;
For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments;
For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection, and waging war against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow citizens, taken captive on the high seas, to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.
In every stage of these oppressions, we have petitioned for redress, in the most humble terms. Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred, to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.