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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Country Cousin

Happy Birthday, America!...

On Monday, July 4, the United States of America will be celebrating its 240th anniversary. In TIMESland and all across the nation we will enjoy parades and picnics during the day and fireworks at night. Most of us will give little thought to the men who made it possible.

BRAVE REVOLUTIONARIES

Until July 4, 1776, when 56 brave men signed the Declaration of Independence, the little group of colonies on the the Atlantic shore of the North American continent had been subjects of the mighty nation of Great Britain, under the despotic rule of King George III.

Sometimes we forget that the American Revolution was just that - a revolution. It was not a war of one nation against another. It started with a band of dissidents who joined forces to overthrow their existing government and form a better one.

GREAT RISKS

The signers were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians with nothing to lose. All were prominent and well respected citizens; 24 were lawyers and jurists, 11 were merchants, and nine were farmers and large plantation owners. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more.

Most of them had families and some had private fortunes. They had a lot to lose. They knew by signing what would be considered a treasonous document they were risking their own lives and fortunes and those of their families as well.

Nevertheless, they put their names on the line. They pledged: "For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

Some of them did indeed pay dearly with their lives and fortunes, but they kept their sacred honor.

Who were these brave men? Some went on to become presidents and hold other high positions in the new government. Some died during the war, and some returned quietly to their private lives. Some of the names are familiar to all of us. Some are not, and they deserve to be remembered. Offer a prayer of thanks for them, and give some thought to how close we are to giving up the freedoms they risked everything to gain for us.

They were:

From Delaware, George Read, Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean;

From Pennsylvania, George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, John Morton, Benjamin Rush, George Ross, James Smith, James Wilson and George Taylor;

From Massachusetts, John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Robert Treat Paine;

From New Hampshire, Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple and Matthew Thornton;

From Rhode Island, Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery;

From New York, Lewis Morris, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis and William Floyd;

From Georgia, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall and George Walton;

From Virginia, Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Jefferson, George Wythe and Thomas Nelson, Jr.;

From North Carolina, William Hooper and John Penn;

From South Carolina, Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, Thomas Lynch, Jr., and Thomas Heyward, Jr.;

From New Jersey, Abraham Clark, John Hart, Francis Hopkinson, Richard Stockton and John Witherspoon;

From Connecticut, Samuel Huntington, Roger Sherman, William Williams and Oliver Wolcott; and

From Maryland, Charles Carroll, Samuel Chase, Thomas Stone and William Paca.

NOT ALL TRUE

A history of their experiences during and after the war has been circulating on the web at least since 1999. Much like Hollywood movies, time and distance appear to have added a bit to some of the tales.

Research, including that done by Snopes, shows that some of the "facts" given about their fates were not entirely true, but the true portions are serious enough.

Snopes says it is true that five signers of the Declaration of Independence were captured by the British, four as prisoners of war, one as a traitor, but none died while a prisoner.

George Walton was captured after being wounded while commanding militia at the Battle of Savannah in December 1778, and Thomas Heyward, Jr., Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge were taken prisoners at the Siege of Charleston in May in 1780.

Although they endured the ill treatment typically afforded to prisoners of war during their captivity (prison conditions were quite deplorable at the time), they were not tortured, nor is there evidence that they were treated more harshly than other wartime prisoners. All four were eventually exchanged or released. Had they been considered traitors by the British, they would have been hanged.

Richard Stockton of New Jersey was the only signer taken prisoner specifically because of his status as a signatory to the Declaration, "dragged from his bed by night" by local Tories after he had evacuated his family from New Jersey. He was imprisoned in New York City's infamous Provost Jail like a common criminal.

A number of signers saw their homes and property occupied, ransacked, looted, and vandalized by the British but they were probably not specifically targeted.

Abraham Clark of New Jersey saw two of his sons captured by the British and incarcerated on the prison ship Jersey.

John Witherspoon, also of New Jersey, saw his eldest son, James, killed in the Battle of Germantown in October 1777.

Nine of the 56 signers died during the war, but only one, Button Gwinnett, died from wounds suffered during the war, and those were received not at the hands of the British, but from a fellow officer with whom he dueled in May 1777. The other eight died from other causes.

Before the American Revolution, Carter Braxton possessed a considerable fortune through inheritance and favorable marriages. His wife was a daughter of the Receiver of Customs in Virginia for the King. As a delegate representing Virginia in the Continental Congress in 1776, he was one of the minority of delegates reluctant to support an American declaration of independence, a move which he viewed at the time as too dangerous:

He described independence as "a delusive Bait which men inconsiderably catch at, without knowing the hook to which it is affixed," and said. "America is too defenseless a State for the declaration, having no alliance with a naval Power nor as yet any Fleet of consequence of her own to protect that trade which is so essential to the prosecution of the War, without which I know we cannot go on much longer."

Nevertheless, he did eventually sign the document. Who knows what problems he faced at home as a result?

Braxton had invested his wealth in commercial enterprises, particularly shipping, and he endured severe financial reversals during the Revolutionary War when many of the ships in which he held interest were either appropriated by the British government (because they were British-flagged) or were sunk or captured by the British.

Braxton recouped much of his money after the war but subsequently lost it again through his own ill-advised business dealings. His fortune was considerably diminished in his later years, but he did not by any stretch of the imagination "die in rags."

In a letter written to his friend John Adams in 1777, Thomas McKean described how he had been "hunted like a fox by the enemy, compelled to remove my family five times in three months, and at last fixed them in a little log-house on the banks of the Susquehanna, but they were soon obliged to move again on account of the incursions of the Indians."

He was said to have served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding, while his possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

However, one biographer declared , "Thomas McKean might just represent an ideal study of how far political engagement can be carried by one man. One can scarcely believe the number of concurrent offices and duties this man performed during the course of his long career. He served three states and many more cities and county governments, often performing duties in two or more jurisdictions, even while engaged in federal office."

Among his many offices, McKean was a delegate to the Continental Congress (of which he later served as president), President of Delaware, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, and Governor of Pennsylvania.

McKean was a volunteer leader of the Revolutionary militia. He definitely did not end up in poverty.

Vandals or soldiers did loot the properties of Ellery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton. Many believe this is not because they were targeted as signers of the Declaration of Independence, but because it was common for British soldiers to appropriate such material from private residences and larger houses were often taken over and used to quarter soldiers or serve as headquarters for officers.

Many more prominent American revolutionaries who were also signers of the Declaration of Independence - for example Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, Benjamin Rush and Robert Morris - had homes in areas that were occupied by the British during the war, yet those homes were not looted or vandalized.

The tale about Thomas Nelson's urging or suggesting the bombardment of his own house is one of several Revolutionary War legends with at least a kernel of truth. Several versions of this story exist.

According to one of the best ones, British Major General Charles Cornwallis had taken over Nelson's home to use as his headquarters in 1781. Nelson, who has succeeded Thomas Jefferson as Governor of Virginia and led three Virginia brigades, or 3,000 men, to Yorktown. Gen. George Washington invited him into his headquarters there. When the shelling of the town was about to begin, Nelson urged Washington to bombard his own house. And that is where Washington, with his experienced surveyor's eye, reputedly pointed the gun for the first (and singularly fatal) allied shot. Legend has it that the shell went right through a window and landed at the dinner table where some British officers, including the British commissary general, had just sat down to dine. The general was killed and several others wounded as it burst among their plates.

Whatever the truth, the Nelson home was certainly not "destroyed" as claimed. The house stands to this day as part of Colonial National Historical Park, and the National Park Service's description of it notes only that "the southeast face of the residence does show evidence of damage from cannon fire."

Shortly after Francis Lewis signed the Declaration of Independence his Long Island estate was raided by the British, possibly as retaliation for his having been a signatory to that document. While Lewis was in Philadelphia attending to congressional matters, his wife was taken prisoner by the British after disregarding an order for citizens to evacuate Long Island. Mrs. Lewis was held for several months before being exchanged for the wives of British officials captured by the Americans. Although her captivity was undoubtedly a hardship, she had already been in poor health for some time and died a few years (not months) later.

There is a story that John Hart "was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying, their 13 children fled for their lives, his fields and his gristmill were laid to waste and for more than a year, he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion and a broken heart."

That, Snopes said, is not true. His New Jersey farm was looted in the course of the Revolutionary War (possibly due his status as Speaker of the Assembly), and he did have to remain in hiding in nearby mountains for a short time, but his wife had already died several weeks earlier and most of his 13 children were adults by then. He did not spend "more than a year" on the run living "in forests and caves." The Continental Army recaptured the area within a month (through General George Washington's famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night). Hart also did not die "from exhaustion and a broken heart" a mere "few weeks" after emerging from hiding. In 1778 he was reelected to the New Jersey Assembly, and he invited the American army to encamp on his New Jersey farmland in June 1778 before succumbing to kidney stones in May 1779.

Lewis Morris saw his Westchester County, New York, home taken over in 1776 and used as a barracks for soldiers, and horses and livestock from his farm were commandeered by military personnel. But he suffered those initial deprivations at the hands of the Continental Army, not the British. As if that wasn't bad enough, that same property was later appropriated, looted, and burned by the British when they occupied New York. Morris and his wife were eventually able to reclaim their property and restore their home after the war.

Philip Livingston lost several properties to the British occupation of New York and sold off others to support the war effort. He did not recover them because he died suddenly in 1778, before the end of the war.

COOKIN' TIME

Summer jaded appetites call for fresh fruits, especially strawberries, which are at their peak right now. And the Fourth of July calls for treats from the grill. So enjoy!

WATERMELON SALAD

Refreshing new twist on watermelon salad.

6 cups (about 3/4 pound) seedless watermelon cubes, from about 1/4 seedless watermelon (rind removed)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of two limes

In a large bowl, toss the watermelon cubes with the mint, olive oil and lime juice. Chill the salad for at least 1 hour before serving.

APRICOT GLAZED RIBS

4 pounds pork spare ribs

1 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger, divided

1 medium onion, cut up

1 cup apple juice

4 tablespoons cider vinegar, divided

2/3 cup apricot preserves

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Heat grill to medium indirect heat. Rub ribs with 1 teaspoon ginger, place ribs and onion in a 13X9-inch baking pan (preferably disposable) and sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired. Add apple juice and three tablespoons of the vinegar. Cover tightly with foil, place on grill but not directly over the coals, and cook, covered, one and a half to two hours or until tender.

Meanwhile, in saucepan blend preserves, one tablespoon vinegar, 3/4 teaspoons ginger, butter, and soy sauce. Cook and stir over medium heat until preserves and butter are melted. Set aside. Then ribs e tender, remove from liquid, discard liquid and place ribs on grill. Brush with sauce, turn and baste other side. Cover and grill 10 to 20 minutes, or until sauce is set. Watch for flare ups and use water to extinguish if needed.

FIRECRACKER PIE

Crust:

2 cups crushed pretzels

4 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup melted butter

Filling:

4 cups sliced fresh strawberries

2 cups fresh blueberries

8 ounces sour cream

1 small package instant vanilla pudding, dry

8 ounces thawed whipped topping, or real whipped cream

Additional whipped cream or whipped topping

More strawberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix crushed pretzels, sugar and melted butter and press into pie tin. Bake for about 10 minutes and let cool. Prepare strawberries and blueberries and set aside. Mix sour cream and pudding mix and fold in the whipped topping. Put layer of filling in the pie shell, layer of strawberries, more filling, and then a layer of blueberries. Add ring of whipped topping around outside of pie, decorated with whole strawberries. Red, white and blue and delicious!

Thought for the week: Once again there's a huge hue and cry for gun control from those who favor huge government. Consider just one thing that Thomas Jefferson, possibly the wisest statesman this nation ever produced, had to say on the subject: "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed one."

(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-291-9002 or by e-mail to shirleyprudhommechickadee@yahoo.com.)

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