Monday, April 20, 2015

She's An American Soldier

Deborah Sampson is the only known female soldier of the Revolutionary War.  Disguised as a man, she served the country well on the battlefield, suffering the same hardships and battles of her fellow troops and maintaining her male identity throughout.

She was born in 1760 in Plympton, Pennsylvania.  Her father was a seaman who didn't come back from the sea, leaving her mother destitute with several kids to raise.  She was forced to give her children up to other families to raise, and then she died just a year after her husband.

Deborah was in two different families before entering the home of Deacon Benjamin G. Gannett, a farmer.  As an indentured servant, she had to work for the family until she was eighteen.  After leaving the family, she taught school for a while.  She evidently caught the eye of a wealthy young man who proposed marriage, but she had other plans.

The Revolutionary War had been raging for several years already.  She was young, healthy, tall and wanted to have an adventure.  She made herself a man's suit of clothing and ventured out in her disguise.  When she had no problems with the charade, she enlisted in the 4th  Massachusetts Regiment, using the first and middle names of her deceased brother, Robert Shurtleff.  She was off to War.

Like all soldiers in a war zone, her life was not easy, but she persevered and became a seasoned soldier.  She almost drowned once when they were crossing the Croton River, suffered a severe head wound in one skirmish, and took two pistol balls in the thigh.  She protested to her fellow soldiers that she did not want to be taken to the hospital, but they ignored her wishes.  At the hospital the head wound was treated and she managed to leave before they began work on her leg.  She used a penknife and managed to get one of the balls out of the thigh, but the other was too deep for her to reach. 

She was assigned to be a waiter in the service of General Paterson.  She fell very ill with a severe fever and lost consciousness.  She was sent to the hospital where the doctor was shocked to find she was a female, wearing a cloth to bind her breasts.  She was sure she would be immediately discharged.  However, the doctor kept her secret, transferring her to his home where she was under the care of the doctor's wife.

When she was able to return to her duties, the doctor gave her a note to take to her superior.  Knowing it must be a letter revealing her secret she was prepared to be sent home.  Instead it was a letter recommending her to be given an honorable discharge.  This was done in 783.

Back home in Massachusetts she met and married a farmer by the name of Benjamin G. Gannett.  The worked hard but lived in poverty as they raised their three children.

At some point her service in the War as a male soldier became known.  In 1792 she petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for monies available to veterans.  Her petition was denied because she was a woman.  She provided letters verifying her service and she finally received 34 pounds plus interest dating back to date of discharge.

Still needing money in 1802, she went out on a lecture tour, the first woman to do so in the United States.  Speaking to audiences composed of both and women, she would extol the value of a woman pursing her womanly duties to the best of their ability.  She would then leave the stage, change into her Army uniform, and come back to talk about her military experiences.  She did this for a year, but barely made enough to cover her expenses.  More than once, Paul Revere would give her money to help her out.

In 1805, and with the help of Paul Revere, she again petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for a military pension given to men who had served in the Revolutionary War.  After some debate she was awarded $4 a month for her service.

She died at the age of 66 in 1827.  After her death, her widower petitioned for pay as a spouse of a soldier.  Though they were not married at the time of her service, the committee concluded that the history of the Revolution "furnished no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity and courage."  He received the pension.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ain't It The Truth

Pity the reputation of the poor little "ain't."  It's been around since sometime in the 1700s, showing up in the speech of just about everyone in England.  Rich, poor or middle class, it found a home in the language usage of just about the entire population in that great nation.

But then something happened sometime in late 1800s.  Rich and poor still made use of it, but the middle class took a disliking to it.  I have no idea just why this happened, but once the idea took hold it wouldn't let go.  Then in the early 1900s the rich decided they could do without it as well.  Then the evil eye was cast upon it and it became a castaway in proper usage.

However, it could not be entirely discarded.  Sometimes there's just no better way of putting a little emphasis to what you're saying.  Consider the everyday saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Also "This ain't my first rodeo."  Don't forget "You ain't seen nothing yet."  And as Will Rogers said, "Common sense ain't common." 

And where would songwriters be without it?  Louis Jordon sang "There ain't nobody here but us chickens."  One of Fats Domino's songs, "Ain't That a Shame" spoke to a whole lot of folks.  Let's not forget the Ira and George Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess that gave us the classic, "Ain't Necessarily So."  Another favorite was "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Nickolas Ashford and Valeria Simpson.

Dizzy Dean, Baseball Hall of Famer and announcer, summed it up when he said, "A lot of people who don't say ain't, ain't eating."

I'll just close by relating something said to be a common Texas saying (though I'd not heard it before) that tickled my fancy: If that ain't a fact, God's a possum.

Monday, April 6, 2015

No Flies On Him

Flies have been around probably since the beginning of time, or at least since the existence of life on this earth.  And I'm sure even the earliest of homo sapiens have been aggravated more than once with their presence.  And they didn't have rolled up newspapers to get rid of the pesky critters.

In 1900 Robert Montgomery received Patent No. 640,790 for invention of the Fly-Killer, a "cheap device of unusual elasticity and durability."  It was made of wire netting, "preferably oblong," attached to a handle. He did not specify the material to be used in the making of the handle.  After all, the netting was the important part as it reduced wind drag, allowing the user to apply a "whip-like" swing.

In 1903 he sold his patent to John Bennett.  The designation of "Fly Swatter" for the apparatus was made in 1905 by Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine of the Kansas City Board of Health.  He was attending a ball game in Topeka, but his attention was focused on a major health issue.  How could they reduce the spread of Typhoid Fever by flies?

It was the bottom of the eighth inning and the score was tied.  Topeka had a man on third.  The fans began screaming at the batter, yelling "Sacrifice Fly!" and then "Swat the ball."  Inspiration struck the good doctor.  A few days later he wrote an article about the situation for The Fly Bulletin with the headline:  Swat The Fly!  And thus, a new phrase came into common use.

Over the years there were adaptations to the common fly swatter.  In 1913 jazz bands were everywhere as folks loved to dance to that sound.  One problem was that the drums were too loud.  There were no sound systems that are now everywhere, and the drums would overpower the other instruments. 

At that time there was a fly swatter with metal brushes and an expandable handle .  One night there was a bright drummer decided to give that a try during a set.  He loved the quieter sound, and soon it was copied by many others.  Their new brushes allowed them to create new and innovative sounds and soon every drummer incorporated them into his set.

Don't you love the creative spirit of people?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Over 260 Years and Still Going Strong

It takes some special folks to keep a volunteer organization going strong.  A group of firefighters in New Jersey are well aware of this and continue doing their duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

1752 - Britannia Fire Company is organized in Bridgeton, New Jersey.  It is the oldest volunteer fire company in continuous service in the United States.  Don't believe it?  They have  the minutes of that first meeting dated July 11, 1752.

1787 - The company changed their name to Mount Holly Fire Company.

1789 - The company built a shed to house their leather fire buckets and ladders, thus becoming the first known "fire house" or fire station in America.

1790s - The town changed their name from Bridgeton to Mount Holly.

1805 - The fire department changed their name from Mount Holly to Relief Fire Engine Company No. 1.

1892 - A new fire house is built for the company.  The old shed, the first fire house in the country, is moved to a location beside the new building.  This shed is now a museum housing artifacts of the company.

I don't know if I'll ever make it to New Jersey, but if so, I'd love to visit the station and museum.  My husband and my son are both retired firefighters and it's always interesting to check out the history of the profession.