Most of us think of everything changing instantly when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and officially it did, but there was more to it than that. After years of oppression under the rulership of the British, the citizens of the 13 colonies had had enough. They formed the Continental Congress. The term “Continental Congress” most specifically refers to the First and Second Congresses of 1774–1781 and, at the time, was also used to refer to the Congress of the Confederation of 1781–1789, which operated as the first national government of the United States until being replaced under the Constitution of the United States. The 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress represented the 13 colonies, 12 of which voted to approve the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776…our accepted day of Independence. The signing of the United States Declaration of Independence actually occurred on August 2, 1776, at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, which later to become known as Independence Hall. I suppose that a purist might insist that August 2nd should be our Independence Day, but the 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress felt like once it was agreed upon, it was done. The signing was merely a technicality.
For the British government, neither of those days was acceptable, nor was the day they found out about the plan of the 13 colonies to gain their independence. In fact, that day…August 10, 1776, was the least acceptable day of all, because the British had no intention of giving the Colonies their independence…not without a fight anyway. When the news reached London, the British saw the conflict, centered in Massachusetts, as a local uprising within the British empire. Some Americans saw it that way too, but the reality is that the Declaration of Independence transformed the 13 British colonies into American states. King George III saw it as a colonial rebellion, but the Americans saw it as a struggle for their rights as British citizens. However, when Parliament continued to oppose any reform and remained unwilling to negotiate with the American rebels and instead hired Hessians, German mercenaries, to help the British army crush the rebellion, the Continental Congress began to pass measures abolishing British authority in the colonies. It was a brave move that would cost many of the 56 signers more than they could ever have imagined.
Following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, five of the signers were captured by the British and labeled as traitors. They were tortured before they died. Twelve of them had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons, who served in the Revolutionary War. Another two had sons captured, and nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. These men knew the risks they were taking. They knew that signing the Declaration of Independence very likely would cost them their lives. Nevertheless, they also knew that they couldn’t let the tyranny continue any longer. They had come to America to escape the tyrannical British government, and they could not allow the British government to make them slaves again. They signed, knowing they would likely die, but they saw no other way. These men weren’t soldiers…so, who were they. Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were farmers and plantation owners. All of them were men of means and well-educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence, knowing that the penalty would be death if they were captured. These men had their livelihood threatened and destroyed, their homes confiscated and sold, and some were threatened so badly that they had to constantly move their families from place to place. Still, not one of them saw this as one option of many. When it came to taking their country back, they saw it as the only option.
It hardly seems possible that 18 years have passed since our nation was brutally attacked on our own soil by Al-Qaeda terrorists, and yet sometimes it seems like so many people who are adults now, don’t really remember 9-11, so they don’t understand the importance. It’s not an unusual thing, I guess, because they were only told about what happened. It might seem like a movie, more than a reality. Nevertheless, it did happen. On that dreadful day, a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic group, Al-Qaeda were carried out against the United States on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. Additional people died of 9/11-related cancer and respiratory diseases in the months and years following the attacks. We, the people of the United States, sat stunned in front of our television sets, trying to grasp what had happened. We were shocked, angry, and terribly grieved. We vowed never to forget. And most of us have not forgotten.
Still, with time comes acceptance. Not that I think that is a good thing, because with acceptance comes complacency. We feel like we can’t change anything, so the best solution is to simply get along. Don’t rock the boat. Try to live together in peace. It all sounds so loving, so…Christian. Unfortunately, the only ones that are trying to “get along and live together in peace,” are the Christians, and maybe the Jews, who have been through such things before, and are getting tired of being the target of slaughter. But, should we be trying to get along with the devil? We have seen the evil that comes with these hateful people who target innocent people who are just trying to live their lives. The don’t care about living in peace with us!! The only want us to comply with their demands.
I have seen so many people saying that they miss 9/12, and I think I agree with them. Yes that horrific day had happened…the unthinkable was in our midst. We were scratching through the rubble, trying to find yet one more alive, though not many would come out of the rubble. The survivors were, for the most part, those who managed to escape before the towers came down. Still, on 9/12, there was something else…there was determination, anger, and love for our fellow man. We were determined to rise out of the ashes, and take back our Pre-9/11 lives, to catch those who did this, and make them pay for what they had done. And we did!!
But then, as the years went by, we tried to get along, hoping that this would never happen again…an impossible feat. Our “get along” spirit did not stop other attacks. We began to hear of places like Benghazi, and even the attack on the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan this morning. The “get along” spirit wasn’t…isn’t working. They hate us simply because we are Christians and Jews, Americans…free people, who don’t believe as they do. September 11, 2001 was a horrible day, very likely the worst in the history of the United States, but I agree with so many others who say they miss 9/12, because on that day, we were no longer the “sleeping giant.” We woke up and realized that we can’t be complacent, because they will kill those who sit idly by and do nothing. We must either continue to fight for our freedom…or we will lose our freedom. We must begin again to recognize our enemy…foreign or domestic. The war hasn’t ended. It continues. We must fight for our freedoms.
Most often, when we think of the early Americans, and their settlements, we think about the settlers who came over from Europe, but there were, of course, the many Indian tribes that existed here first. I’m not going to dispute whether the Indians or the White Man have more right to be here, because I truly believe that we should all be able to co-exist here after all these years, and that while treaties were broken many times, we have more than likely paid for this land a number of times, given the money that has been, and continues to be paid to the Native Americans. The oldest known culture in the United States was the Pueblo Indians, who lived in the Southwestern United States. Their name is Spanish for “stone masonry village dweller.” They are believed to be the descendants of three major cultures…the Mogollon, Hohokam, and Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) Indians. I’m not sure how they would have come to be here, unless their ancestors were here first, but that is how the historians see it.
Over the years, the Ancient Puebloans, who had been a nomadic, hunter-gathering society, evolved into a sedentary culture. They made their homes in the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. The Puebloans continued to hunt, but they also expanded to agriculture. They grew maze, corn, squash, and beans. They also raised turkeys and even developed a fairly complex irrigation system. They took up basket weaving and pottery, and became quite skilled in both. About this time, they began building the buildings we think about when we think of the Pueblo Indians…villages, often on top of high mesas or in hollowed-out natural caves at the base of canyons. These multiple-room dwellings and apartment like complexes, designed with stone or adobe masonry, were the forerunner of the later pueblos.
Sadly, even with their successful life changes, the Ancient Puebloans way of life declined in the 1300’s, probably due to drought and inter-tribal warfare. They migrated south, primarily into New Mexico and Arizona, becoming what is today known as the Pueblo people. For hundreds of years, these Pueblo descendants lived a similar lifestyle to their ancestors. They continued to survive by hunting and farming, and also building “new” apartment-like structures, sometimes several stories high. These new structures were made of cut sandstone faced with adobe, which is a combination of earth mixed with straw and water. Sometimes, the adobe was poured into forms or made into sun-dried bricks to build walls that are often several feet thick. The buildings had flat roofs, which served as working or resting places, as well as observation points to watch for approaching enemies and view ceremonial occasions. For better defense, the outer walls generally had no doors or windows, but instead, window openings in the roofs, with ladders leading into the interior.
Each family unit consisted of a single room of the building unless the family grew too large. Then side-rooms were sometimes added. The houses of the pueblo were usually built around a central, open space or plaza in the middle of which was a “kiva,” a sunken chamber used for religious purposes. Each pueblo was an independent and separate community. The different pueblos shared similarities in language and customs, but each pueblo had its own chief, and sometimes two chiefs, a summer and winter chief, who alternated. Most important affairs, such was war, hunting, religion, and agriculture, however, were governed by priesthoods or secret societies. Each pueblo was almost a separate country.
When the colonists came over to the new world, they really didn’t know how they were going to make a living. They were most likely planning to raise their own crops, along with hunting and fishing, but the reality is that those things were only going to take them so far. They were going to need other things. In 1620, Plymouth Colony was founded in present-day Massachusetts. The settlers there had planned to make a living with cod fishing, but that wasn’t going very well. So, within a few years of their first fur export, the Plymouth colonists began concentrating entirely on the fur trade. They developed an economic system in which their chief crop, Indian corn, was traded with Native Americans to the north for highly valued beaver skins, which were then sold in England to pay the Plymouth Colony’s debts and buy necessary supplies.
In November 9, 1621, Robert Cushman a deacon and captain of the Fortune arrived with 35 new settlers for Plymouth Colony…the first new colonists since the settlement was founded over a year earlier. The plan was to drop off the settlers, and then a month later, head back to England with a cargo of furs to pay for supplies and to pay debts the colony owed to England. On December 13, 1621, Robert Cushman and the Fortune set sail back to England, but theirs was not to be a good voyage. During Cushman’s return to England, the Fortune was captured by the French, and its valuable cargo of furs was taken. Cushman was detained on the Ile d’Dieu before being returned to England. The capture was due to a navigation error. About January 19, 1622, Fortune was overtaken and seized by a French warship, with those on board being held under guard in France for about a month and with its cargo taken. Fortune finally arrived back in the Thames on February 17, 1622.
The Fortune was 1/3 the size of the Mayflower, displacing 55 tons. The arrival of the vessel sent by the English investors, who had funded the Mayflower colonists, should have been a cause for celebration. But for the Pilgrims, Fortune was poorly named. The ship brought 35 new settlers, but none of the expected supplies. With new mouths to feed, rations were reduced by half. Worse, the investors demanded that the ship return immediately to England, stocked with trade goods. The Pilgrims complied by loading Fortune with “good clapboard as full as she could stow” and two hogsheads of beaver and otter skins, only to have them lost to the French, which the English investors did not seem to care about.
After the Mayflower brought the Plymouth settlers, they struggled under the demands of their English investors for seven years. The investors also sent a letter criticizing the settlers because the Mayflower arrived back in England with an empty hold, and demanding that the Fortune return immediately filled with valuable goods. The colonists complied. For the next six years, they sent sizable shipments, especially of furs, back to England. But the goods yielded far less profit than the investors expected, and as the seven year mark approached, the colonists were still in debt. Finally, 27 of them pooled their personal resources and paid off the debt. Once free of the requirement to live communally and hold all property in common, the original settlers divided the land into private lots, and the era of the “Old Comers” was over.
My great grandparents, Henriette and Carl Schumacher were both of German descent. They both came to America at different times…Grandma in 1882 and Grandpa in 1884. They met at a baptism and fell in love. They were married, and had 7 children, one of whom died as a little girl. They were just two of the many German people who have come to this country as far back as the colonial days. Of course, there were many German people who came here before my great grandparents. One of the most notable groups was the 13 German Mennonite families from Krefeld who landed in Philadelphia. These families founded Germantown, Pennsylvania on October 6, 1683. The settlement was the first German establishment in the original thirteen American colonies.
There are many people in the United States who can trace their ancestry back to German roots in one way or another, and the German-American people have been a building block in this nation. These were people who wanted to come here for a better life, or to escape some of the horrors of the German government, and I for one am thankful that my grandparents immigrated to this country. President Ronald Reagan believed that the German-American heritage was so important to this nation, that in 1983, he proclaimed October 6 as German-American Day to celebrate and honor the 300th anniversary of German American immigration and culture to the United States. On August 6, 1987, Congress approved S.J. Resolution 108, designating October 6, 1987, as German-American Day. It became Public Law 100-104 when President Reagan signed it on August 18, 1987. Proclamation number 5719 was issued on October 2, 1987, by President Reagan in a formal ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, at which time the President called on Americans to observe the Day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. Now for many people, that might include German beer, as well as Oktoberfest activities…basically a party.
The Germantown, Pennsylvania, settlers organized the first petition in the English colonies to abolish slavery in 1688. Originally known as German Day, the holiday was celebrated for the first time in Philadelphia in 1883, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the settlers from Krefeld. Similar celebrations developed later in other parts of the country, but the custom died out during World War I as a result of the anti-German sentiment that prevailed at the time. Then, in 1983, President Reagan decided that the time had come to reinstate it. I think it’s a good thing, because those German people who left Germany, were not like the German government was. They were truly good people, who were good for this nation.
Most gun lovers have seen just about every gun out there, and I’m pretty sure that the gun lovers I know will most likely know about the Punt Gun. The punt gun gave a whole new meaning to the term packing. A punt gun is a type of extremely large shotgun used in the 19th and early 20th centuries for shooting large numbers of waterfowl for commercial harvesting operations. Punt guns were usually custom designed and so varied widely, but could have bore diameters exceeding 2 inches and fire over a pound of shot at a time. A single shot could kill over 50 waterfowl resting on the water’s surface.
The guns were too big to hold and the recoil so large that they were mounted directly on the punts, which is a type of boat used for hunting, hence their name. Hunters would maneuver their punts quietly into line and range of the flock of birds, resting on the water, using poles or oars to avoid startling the birds. Generally the gun was fixed to the punt, so the hunter would maneuver the entire boat in order to aim the gun. The guns were sufficiently powerful, and the punts themselves sufficiently small, so that firing the gun often propelled the punt backwards several inches or more. To improve efficiency, hunters could work in fleets of up to around ten punts. In many ways it was a cruel way to hunt. Waterfowl flocks were severely depleted in the United States, so by the 1860s most states had banned the practice.
The Lacey Act of 1900 banned the transport of wild game across state lines, and the practice of market hunting was outlawed by a series of federal laws in 1918. There were still about 50 punt guns in the United Kingdom, as shown by a 1995 survey. The UK limits punt guns to a bore diameter of 1.75 inches by law. Since Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 there has been a punt gun salute every Coronation and Jubilee over Cowbit Wash in Cowbit, Lincolnshire, England. During the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II, 21 punt gun rounds were fired separately, followed by the guns all being fired simultaneously. While the original use of punt guns was almost cruel, I suppose their latter uses is a much more noble way to use the guns.
When we think of train robberies, most of us think of the Old West, and bandits on horseback, riding up along side the train, and jumping on. Then, with guns pointed at everyone, they robbed the train, and left the same way they came in. In fact, I think most of us thought that the days of robbing a train were over, and maybe that played to the advantage of the outlaws, because on August 8, 1963, a group of 15 thieves and 2 key informants pulled off one of the most famous heists of all time.
The leader and mastermind behind the heist was Bruce Reynolds, who was a known burglar and armed robber. He was an avid “fan” of the Wild West railroad heists in America, so he decided to see if he could pull something like that off in England. Reynolds and 14 other men wearing ski masks and helmets held up the Royal Mail train heading between Glasgow, Scotland, and London, England. The gang used Land Rover vehicles which had been stolen in central London and marked with identical license plates in order to confuse the police. Unlike the Wild West gangs, this gang used a false red signal to get the train to stop, then hit the driver with an iron bar, seriously injuring him, in order to gain control of the train. The thieves loaded 120 mailbags filled with the equivalent of $7 million in used bank notes into their Land Rovers and sped off to their hideout, which was the Leatherslade Farm in Buckinghamshire, England, to divide their loot. The robbers had cut all the telephone lines in the vicinity, but one of the rail-men left on the train at Sears Crossing caught a passing goods train to Cheddington, where he raised the alarm at around 04:20.
As often happens, the media reports on these things, and before you know it, they are viewed as folk heroes by the public for the audacious nature of their crime and their flight from justice. The first reports of the robbery were broadcast on the VHF police radio within a few minutes and this is where the gang heard the line “A robbery has been committed and you’ll never believe it – they’ve stolen the train!” I’m sure that added to the charm felt by the public, because seriously, who but an eccentric, would steal a train. As always seems to happen, 12 of the 15 robbers were eventually captured. They received a collective 300 years in prison. One of them, a small-time hood named Ronnie Biggs, escaped from prison after just 15 months and underwent plastic surgery to change his appearance. He fled the country and eluded capture for years, finally giving himself up in 2001 when he returned from Brazil voluntarily to serve the 28 years remaining in his sentence…a rather odd thing to do, considering the fact that he had successfully escaped. The two Land Rovers used in the robbery were discovered at the thieves’ hideout. A car enthusiast still owns one of them today, and considers it a collector’s item.
These days there are so many public schools in the United States, that they have become something we give little thought to. That was not always the case, however. As people moved West to populate this great nation, many mothers had to homeschool their children. Eventually, schools began to spring up across the prairie, but what about the schools back East. This nation didn’t always have schools. Things had to be established first. And considering the fact that America was discovered in 1492, it would seem to me that the schools were a bit behind the times. The first public school in the United States, was established on this day, April 23, 1635, in Boston, Massachusetts. The school was called the Boston Latin School. At the time the school was formed, English was not the only language spoken in the United States, so learning Latin, which was considered to be the root of European language, was also a priority, as it was with grammar schools in England. Seventeenth-century schoolboys throughout Europe, Catholic or Protestant, learned Latin, and which explains the focus of Boston Latin.
One of the main reasons for education, as far as the Puritans were concerned, was to be able to read the Bible. One of the main reasons for the pilgrimage to the new world was religious freedom, and they felt like it was essential that their students be schooled in the important languages, so they could read the Bible and other important books for themselves. Boston Latin School has prided itself on the number of its students who attended Harvard, or some of the other prestigious four year college.
When I think of the first school in the United States, and the history thereof, I think of my Aunt Bertha Schumacher Hallgren. She mentioned in her journal that in writing a family history, the author should mention things that are interesting about the times the people in the family lived in. She also had a type of love-hate relationship with school. As a young girl, all she really wanted to do was to stay at home with her mother, but she also understood the importance of a good education, for without it she would not have been able to get the jobs she was able to get, which were good jobs, especially for a woman at that time in history. Whether we enjoy school or not, it is a gateway to almost every opportunity there is, and in the United States, it started with Boston Latin School.
Things were quite different in the 1800s, as most of you know, but sometimes I wonder if we really understand how different they were. In about 1876 or so, my great grandmother, Henriette Schumacher, a girl of about 16 years, was sent by her widowed mother, with her sister to America. Her sister’s husband wanted to immigrate there, and since they had two little daughters, and Great Grandma’s mother was worried about her daughter going so far without help, she decided that since Henriette was not married she should go too. For their mother, there seemed to be safety in numbers, so it had to be better to send two girls instead of just one. I really can’t imagine the heartache she must have felt at that time. When my own daughter, Amy Royce moved to Washington state, I thought my heart would break…and yet I knew I would see her again, and that communication for us would be fairly easy. For my 2nd great grandmother, things were different. She didn’t know if she would see her daughters again, and I have no way to confirm that she did.
Still, many people were leaving the old country, in search of a dream life somewhere else. In that way, not much has changed at all. People still move from place to place, and sometimes country to country in search of some exciting new dream life. Some find what they are looking for, and others find out that what they were searching for was right there in front of them all along, so they return to their home. For my great grandmother, there didn’t seem to be much of a dream life waiting for her. She had a boyfriend back home, but things weren’t serous I suppose, because he didn’t follow her, and they never married. I think that for Great Grandma, Germany was comfortable. It was her home, and all she really knew. She didn’t have the wanderlust that her brother-in-law had. She couldn’t see that a life in America would be any better than the one she had in Germany, close to her family and friends. Nevertheless, go she must, so she said goodbye to all she knew, and headed off with her sister’s family to America.
In the end, she would find that her destiny was in America. It was there that she met my great grandfather, Carl Schumacher, who had immigrated a few years earlier. Their chance meeting when he stepped in for a baptismal sponsor who was unable to attend the baptism of Henriette’s sister’s daughter, brought Carl he woman he would fall so completely in love with, that they would marry just a year later. I’m sure at that point, Henriette thought back to her prior boyfriend, and decided that their romance was a silly schoolgirl crush. Whoever he was, he could never have measured up to the man Carl was. Henriette wasn’t the same either. She was a world traveler now. She had lived in a wild new country. She had left home, grown up quickly, and had a degree of independence that her old beau would not have understood. Her world was different…things were different…she was different. He would never have been her choice now. Sometimes that is just how it goes. Our lives take turns that we didn’t plan on, and suddenly things are different. Then we have to live our life in the new reality that we live in. I’m sure that is how her mother felt too.
For as long as I can remember, my Uncle Bill Spencer was a gun dealer. He went to gun shows, had every kind of gun imaginable, and every accessory for them. Uncle Bill is a patriot, and he hated anything that remotely resembled an infringement on our Constitutional rights…especially the 2nd Amendment. Not only did he sell guns, but he talked to people about the importance of fighting for our Constitutional rights. That’s not surprising really, my dad, aunts, and uncles on both sides of my family, grew up in a time when America was strong and people understood what it took to keep it that way. Of course, there are still patriots today, but there are also far too many Americans who have forgotten the reason behind our freedoms. And that government should not be allowed to infringe upon those rights.
My Uncle Bill, and my dad, Allen Spencer, who was two years younger than his brother, were around guns and dynamite most of their lives. The dynamite shocked me when I first heard about it, but after they finished their story, it all made sense. For anyone who has ever tried to get rid of a tree stump, dynamite makes sense at some point. However, these boys were just a little bit crazy with their dynamite antics, from sinking the gate post while their mom was in town and then fixing it before she got home, to blowing up dynamite to celebrate the fourth of July, I don’t think their mom ever knew what to expect from them. Nevertheless, they were both safety conscious too…even as kids. They knew what could happen if you weren’t safe.
One time my dad heard that Uncle Bill was going to be in Rapid City for a gun show. Dad had been growing a beard for a centennial, and so didn’t look exactly like himself. We showed up at the gun show without telling him we were coming. Mom and Dad sent us girls ahead to just look around Uncle Bill’s table. Dad’s plan worked. When Uncle Bill finally realized who we were, he was both pleased and stunned. It was such a great prank to pull on him, and he was totally fooled. Then we had a wonderful visit with him afterward. Uncle Bill has always been so special to me, and I missed him a lot. I think we had a lot in common. Our interests run along the same lines, and that made our visits special, and our partings tough. I’m thankful that we still have Uncle Bill in our lives, but I wish we could see him more often. Today is Uncle Bill’s 94th birthday. Happy birthday Uncle Bill!! Have a great day!! We love you!!