Archive for category Brown Signs

If These Walls Could Talk

Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum. Photo: JDickson

 Historic figures are sometimes connected with a place.  Lincoln and Illinois.  King and Atlanta.  Jefferson and Virginia.  Capone and Chicago.

Susan B. Anthony’s connection is probably upstate New York, especially as she is tied to the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention, held in 1848.  It was in Adams, Massachusetts where she was born and where her birthplace home is now a small museum.

Anthony lived there until she was 6.   The house, built by her father, is now a small museum and has been almost entirely restored, with attempts to make it as authentic to the 1820s period as possible.   Wide floor boards; uneven lath and plaster walls.  Two rectangular-shaped, small rooms lay adjacent to each side of a stairway up to a second floor with the same pattern of four rooms and a center hallway.  Sounds a lot like a house my wife and I own, not 20 miles away, built a few years later.       

Walking through Anthony’s birthplace home, visitors must wonder what it was inside those walls that contributed to young Susan developing into a committed, unbending woman’s rights, temperance and abolitionist reformer.  Reformer may be too mild, as her newspaper was called “The Revolution.”  She even had two brothers who joined anti-slavery crusades prior to the Civil War, traveling to Kansas to join John Brown in his violent activities opposing the expansion of slavery there. 

Perhaps, it was her father’s Quaker pacifist, temperance beliefs.  One can imagine growing up with family conversations surrounding her father’s decision to marry Lucy Read, a Baptist, and even referring to the injustice of having to apologize for marrying outside the Quaker meeting.   (Betsy Ross, 50 years earlier and hundreds of miles further south, saw her sisters and experienced the shame herself as Quakers marrying outside the Meeting.) 

 Further, it is easy to see a possible impact coming from living with as many as a dozen young women who worked at her father’s mill, across the road.  Imagine conversations the child Anthony might have had with or overheard from these young role models and mentors, focused on exhausting work, sharing their wages with families, looking ahead to lives as second-class citizens.  Perhaps it was Anthony’s own experiences helping her mother cope with the feeding and care of all these boarders that contributed to her legendary organizing skills.  It could have shaped her desire to get an education to avoid that kind of work, only to have a teacher deny her the opportunity to learn.

Still one more family anecdote had Anthony’s father selling liquor in the small store located in the front room of his house.   Was his decision to abandon the sale of alcohol from his home at the insistence of his fellow Quakers behind Anthony’s embracing the temperance movement as one of three “causes” to which she devoted her life? 

Anthony’s birthplace home is a humble house, compared to the grand-er restored mansions in Berkshire County which some of the country’s wealthiest built as summer escapes and now serve as shrines to the Gilded Age.  But, her home serves another, perhaps more important, purpose besides trying to figure out her early influences.  This home tells more closely the story of most residents eking out a living in the early 1800s in New England.

Leave a comment

Why are battlefield sites so peaceful

Ever heard of the Battle of Hubbardton?  Neither had I, until this past weekend when driving south in Vermont we came upon the “brown sign.”  Turns out, it is the only battle fought “entirely in Vermont” during the Revolutionary War.  The “entirely” is important since within a month there was a second battle in Bennington, Vermont in the southwestern corner of the state, bordering Massachusetts and New York.  Turns out, as well, that it was a pivotal battle on July 7, 1777 to forestall the British in their march from Ticonderoga, in their belief that they could contain the revolution to the rebellious New England colonies by controlling the Hudson and cutting them off from New York and all points south.   Or, at least that’s what we read in the clean and informative visitor center.

I have found over many years of reading history the difficulty of conveying the unrolling of a battle through the printed word.  Too many groupings, elements and terrain leave me confused.   Hubbardton was no different, but they did have a relief map with lights which lit up as the taped narrator walked the observers through the chronology of the colonists holding the ridge, then giving way, but seeing a vulnerable opening in the British flank which did allow them to achieve one objective of delaying the British advance south.

Moving from that well-designed explanation to the actual site proved a setback, as we tried to imagine troop movements coming from which valley?  Proceeding to which points on the ridge and down which hill and where was the log/brush fence?

It didn’t matter to us, since we were more interested in the beautiful scenery on a summer Sunday looking out over the forests and the hills.  The only sounds were the wind through the trees, an occasional bird, and our voices.

It was so serene it was hard to imagine the fog of war where we standing no matter how long ago, and how quickly the battle transpired on just one morning.  The fact that over 100 soldiers died where we were walking added an eerie presence to the serenity.   The field becomes less a battlefield than a cemetery.

This calm proved no different from other battlefields I have visited, like Gettysburg or Little Bighorn or Isandlwana in South Africa.

We learned there is a large reenactment at Hubbardton every year, and since next year is the 240th anniversary, the congregating reenactors will reach the hundreds.

Given the deaths on the battlefield, shouldn’t there be a memorial service instead?

The view from Monument Hill, with battlefield visitor center. Hubbardton, Vermont

Leave a comment