by Gordon Saunders
An Overview of the ‘Young America’ series
When did America start? Long before the colonists revolted against the mother country, Great Britain, I think. But it didn’t take on those characteristics that we recognize as foundational until that revolution started and thirteen colonies had to find a way to work together to form – if not a perfect union, at least a more perfect one.
A milestone at the beginning of that process was their most significant victory in the ‘hot’ war with Great Britain: the Battle of Yorktown. The ‘Young America’ series begins with the events leading up to, including, and immediately following that battle, as seen through the eyes of three participants: a young American from Baltimore, a young Frenchman from Brest, and a young Englishman from Liverpool – the drummer in red – the icon that encompasses all that happened during that fateful year, 1781.
A Drummer in Red, the first of the ‘Young America’ series, tells this story. The second book in the series, The Blood of Patriots and Tyrants, follows our three young men and the young country from 1782 until the inauguration of George Washington, the first president of the United States, on April 30, 1789, and the news of the French Revolution reaching our shores in November of that year.
The third book, on which I am currently working, tentatively entitled, The Fever Spreads, follows our young men in three directions as they participate in the growth and development of the power, prestige, and physical extent of our country. In it we see such disparate elements as the Barbary Wars, the passing of the Bill of Rights, the extension of the western frontier to the Mississippi River, and the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804.
As countries go, those twenty-three years do not represent great longevity. And considering how old the country is now, I suppose we could still reasonably call it young for quite a few more years after 1804. So I imagine there will have to be a few more books in the Young America series, at least getting us to, oh, say Thomas Jefferson, or Andrew Jackson, or maybe Abraham Lincoln – if I live that long.
I hope you’ll enjoy them and learn from them. I’ve certainly learned a lot as I’ve been researching them. And the most prominent lesson I’ve learned, I’d have to say, is that very little has changed since those delirious days of revolution, of nation-building, and of inventing ways to keep the republic.
Here are a few of excerpts from The Blood of Patriots and Tyrants to give you a feel for it. Enjoy!
“… what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned … that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? … The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, Paris, November 13, 1787
From Chapter 5: Apprenticed
So now Lewis had to focus on French and Math. His exposure to Gilly had enabled him to learn additional French words – though not necessarily the ones the teacher would have chosen – but had not improved his grammar. However, as he was the most advanced student in the class, the teacher, Mr. Blondeau, spent extra time with him.
“Say it right!” he said. “And not with that pained expression on your face.”
Lewis tried. “Tiens!”
“No. Not so much ‘n’. And I don’t want to hear the slightest whisper of that ‘s’. If you say it like that, they’ll know you’re an ignorant foreigner.”
“Don’t they already know?” asked Lewis.
“Of course,” said Mr. Blondeau. “But if you say it correctly, they won’t act as if they do.”
“How can I ever tell what they know? And if they know everything, why do we have conversations, anyway?”
“C’est jeu!” said Mr. Blondeau.
“It’s a game?”
“To see who can learn the most while saying the least.”
“But you said yourself that you have to know what a Frenchman is going to say before he says it in order to know what he meant after he’s said it.”
“Vrai. But we pretend. And we smile. And we think everyone knows what’s going on and we think no one knows what’s going on.”
“But if I say, ‘Fire the cannon,’ I want the sailor to fire the cannon. I don’t want him to guess that I might have meant something else.”
“Oui, but, you see, he knew you wanted him to fire the cannon. You could have said, ‘Please wind my watch,’ and he would still have fired the cannon.”
Lewis shook his head. “So why am I learning all these words and all this grammar?”
“Tiens!” said Mr. Blondeau. “You are so dense. You ‘ave to fill the air with something! It is in being with the others, doing things together, sharing a dream – like liberté – together, that you come to understand one another. Words – sometimes they help, sometimes they get in the way. You must know the people!”
“Is it like this with every language?” asked Lewis.
“Ummm,” said Mr. Blondeau looking out the classroom window for a moment. “Certainly not German.” Then he waved his finger in the air. “And not Dutch, who like you to know everything with excruciating accuracy and exhaustive formulation. But Russian. Yes, and possibly Spanish. And Portuguese.”
He turned and grimaced at Lewis. “Ça suffit!” he said. “Enough for today.”
Lewis picked up his books and turned to the door. “I think I’m going to study mathematics,” he said. “Numbers don’t pretend.”
“Ahh,” said Mr. Blondeau. “You might be surprised!”
From Chapter 16: Oysters and Court Closings
As he got up to leave his time of instruction, Lewis realized that he had left his satchel at Mr. Jay’s house. He decided it wasn’t too late to go back and retrieve it – in fact, it was necessary since it contained both his John Jay assignments and his Columbia assignments. One of the servants would let him in or get it for him, and no one would be any the wiser. As Benjamin picked up the tab and headed toward the counter, Lewis headed out the door.
He discovered a louder and more ebullient New York than he had experienced during the daytime hours, on more than one occasion being made an offer he decided to resist. He knew about pick-pockets, street thieves, disease and other collateral damage that sometimes occurred when one was out at night, and wanted no part of it. He rushed along to Jay’s neighborhood on Broadway – where a degree of decorum still reigned. He got to the house and lifted the knocker.
Just as the door was opened from the inside by one of the servants.
“Why Mr. Elliot!” said a voice. The door was opened fully to reveal Alexander Hamilton.
“Why Mr. Hamilton,” said Lewis in return. “I…I left something here…”
“We were just speaking of you,” said Hamilton.
“Who’s out there Alex?” said a pleasant female voice.
Hamilton turned to his wife. “It’s our friend, Lewis,” he said, “of whom we were just speaking with Mr. Jay, weren’t we.”
“Why, yes we were,” said Mrs. Hamilton, sweeping around Hamilton to get a view of Lewis. “And more good-looking than ever,” she said.
“You are always so kind,” said Lewis, bowing slightly.
Mr. Jay came up from behind the two Hamiltons. “Ah,” he said, “Mr. Elliot.”
Lewis nodded. “Sir,” he said.
“Mr. Hamilton and I have struck a deal, if your studies will permit, that you will accompany him to a short meeting in Annapolis. I should think you would be gone for about three weeks. In return…”
Hamilton tossed his head and sniffed. “You are capable and quick, Lewis,” he said. “I passed the bar without ever spending a day studying for it in a school. You will do perfectly well despite being away from your school for a few weeks.”
“It is settled, then,” said Jay. Then to Hamilton. “See to your part of the deal.”
“We leave on Monday, 8 AM, from Fraunces,” Hamilton said, turning to Lewis. “Your best suit, but no uniform. Bring paper, ink and quills. I may need you to write even as we travel – provided we have sufficient privacy.”
Lewis stood rooted for a moment, a bit overtaken by events.
“You do wish to go, do you not?” asked Hamilton.
“Indeed, Sir,” said Lewis. “I was just wondering where I would get paper, ink and quills before Monday…”
“Ah,” said Hamilton, “and with what money.” He looked over at Jay. “Yes,” he said, “I had heard that Mr. Jay is, let me say, economically-minded.”
Hamilton pulled a small purse from his vest, fished in it, and produced a gold Sovereign.
“This should suffice,” he said. “Keep the remainder for your needs along the way.”
Hamilton turned back to Jay, who was now joined by his wife, Sarah. “Good night, Monsieur, Madame,” he said, and tucking Eliza’s hand under his arm, he nodded at Lewis and headed off into the night.
From Chapter 17: Rebellion
Word came to Springfield that on January 19, Lincoln’s army would begin the march to Northampton, where they assumed Shays and his men would be found. This caused Shays and Day to decide they should split their forces lest they all be caught in one place. Shays moved to Palmer, about ten miles northeast of Springfield, Parsons to Chicopee, a few miles to the north, and Day stayed in West Springfield, across the Connecticut River from Springfield. If Lincoln was truly going to Northampton, they should never meet at all, and the arsenal should be an easy target.
Being apart required them to send messengers to one another, and of course would present other logistical problems, but by the 23rd, when Lincoln’s army had passed their position to the north, they were set to take the arsenal on the 25th. It would be a coordinated, three-pronged attack, that should take any guards at the arsenal by surprise. With any luck at all, there would be no bloodshed.
Unfortunately, it began to snow that night. And the next day. And by the time Shays and Parsons left their bivouacs on the 25th, the snow was four feet high in places. Nevertheless, they made their way to the arsenal, pushing their way through it.
Crispin had attached himself to Captain James White’s advance guard, so as to get to the scene as early as possible and find a location from which he could make good drawings and, he thought it was important, to be out of the line of fire of any bullets that happened to be flying around. So he was off to the left of the four-hundred or so former revolutionary soldiers marching eight across toward the arsenal, making his own path, when the first cannonballs flew over his head.
“Artillery,” yelled Captain White. “Doubletime!”
The men sped up their pace, plowing through the snow as best they could. Another volley went over their heads.
“Where is Shays?” shouted White. “Where is Day?”
The line continued forward, heedless of the cannon fire. Crispin watched White’s mounted troops wheel and turn behind him, running from the field of fire. The cannons fired again. This time, grapeshot. Red blood erupted into the white snow. Men were down. Crispin ran to a nearby tree, stood behind it, took out sketchbook and pencil, and began to draw.
Those of White’s men still out of range of the shot, turned and ran back. ‘No bloodshed,’ they could tolerate. The bloodshed of their opponents, they would regret, but accept. But no man wins against a cannon. They would not uselessly shed their own blood. They retreated. White jumped into bushes near Crispin’s perch.
“Get out of here before you get your head blow off,” he yelled to Crispin.
“Almost finished,” Crispin shouted. He made one last line, pocketed his pencil and sketchbook, and tried to get his gloves on. He found his hands too stiff to accomplish the task, and dropped his left glove into the snow in the process.
“Come now!” shouted White, seeing troops running their way from the arsenal.
Crispin turned to run after him. The glove would have to be gone. A round whizzed past him, close enough so he could hear its whine. He ducked, fell into the snow, unfortunately covering his hands and arms with snow and getting it up his sleeves, stood, and ran again.
But no further shots came his way. The pursuit did not continue.
He could see, some distance in front of him, the remnants of White’s men and Parson’s brigade. No one hurried any longer, because no one followed them. Crispin shook out his sleeves, placed his hands under his arms, and trudged wearily after them.
It was not supposed to have turned out this way, thought Crispin, as he tried to keep up with the disappearing army.
But then he stepped into a deep hole a horse had made, pulled his leg out, and fell to his knees.
“I should get up,” he whispered through shivering lips. “But why?”
He allowed himself to fall forward.
I’ll just sleep a little, he thought. Just a little would do me good.