Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"New England Has Been Fighting the Devil"

Just when I thought there was nothing left to write, after all 1776 had a wildly successful run but closed two weeks ago, I was watching the DVD preparing to narrate a "director's commentary" when I was struck by some dialogue that sent me back to the Internet for research. Consider these lines.

Dickinson: My dear Congress--you must not adopt this evil measure--it is the work of the devil. Leave it where it belongs--in New England!

Sherman: Brother Dickinson, New England has been fighting the devil for more than a hundred years.

Dickinson: As of now, "Brother" Sherman, the devil has been winning hands down!

My question was, "Why New England?" I'm sure you remember reading in high school, The Crucible, The Scarlett Letter, The Devil and Daniel Webster, The Devil and Tom Walker, the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Cotton Mather; all about New England and the devil.

According to The Devil's Dominion: Magic and Religion in New England, "The New England colonists brought with them from England a variety of magical beliefs and practices. Most English men and women were aware of the folk practitioners who provided magical services. Many were skilled at healing and divining. Magic was very popular during this time and used often. Robert Burton a don at Christ Church Oxford (1599-1640) wrote that there were 'cunning men, wizards and white witches in every village which if sought into will help almost all infirmities of body and mind.'" Althought the good New Englanders were mostly Puritans, christianity and magical skills seemed to cooexist.

The reference might also have been to the Salem Witch trials a mere 84 years previous in 1692.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

"Pale Puny Things Beside New England Girls"

The extraordinary love affair between John and Abigail Adams is well documented through their letters to one another; many of which provide the lyrics and dialogue in the musical 1776. She indeed was not a "pale, puny thing."

Abigial Adams was born Abigail Smith on November 11, 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of a clergyman. She was raised by her grandmother. She and John Adams were married in 1764, and while John practiced law over the next ten years the couple gave birth to two daughters and three sons. As John became busier serving their country during the events surrounding the American Revolution, Abigail endured the long separations from John and successfully raised their children during extremely difficult times - wartime shortages, inflation, little hired help, home schooling of her children when schooling became unavailable, and incredible loneliness. Famous for her long and endearing letters of love and advice to her husband during his absences (more than half their married life was spent away from each other), she truly had a great hand in guiding John Adams' political career. This working political relationship continued from John's appointment as a diplomatic envoy in Paris to then becoming the first United States Minister to Great Britain, through John's tenure then as the first Vice President and then the second President of the United States. Abigail and John retired to Quincy, Massachusetts in 1801. Abigail died on October 28, 1818, and she and John are buried beside each other at United First Parish Church in Quincy.

She is known for her request that he and the Continental Congress:

...remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
John answered:...as to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh...Depend upon it, we know better Than to repeal our masculine systems.

If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

"...We're Rotting for Want of It"

Although Hopkins was talking about independence today's blog is dedicated to the 1776 "junkies" who need their daily 1776 "fix" when there's no show, no rehearsal, and no party.

"...tria juncta in uno"
Latin for "three joined into one," the motto of the Order of the Bath. This was an ancient order in the British Isles, dating back to at least the 11th century. In 1725 King George I revived it as a reward for military service. The honoree could wear a red riband and star upon which were three crowns surrounded by the Latin motto.

The Royal Governor of New Jersey
With his common-law wife Deborah, Benjamin Franklin had a daughter (Sara or "Sally") and a son (Francis or "Franky"). Franky died of smallpox in his fifth year, a devastating blow to his parents. Before Franklin married Deborah, he had conceived an illegitimate son (William) with a woman whose name is lost to history. Deborah agreed to raise William in her household, although apparently she had no particular maternal feelings towards William, especially after the death of her own son. Franklin, however, was quite close to "Billy" throughout most of his life, until, that is, the trouble started with Great Britain. Franklin eventually came to side with those who wanted to break from Britain, while Billy remained a loyalist. This created a schism between father and son that lasted the rest of Franklin's life, although after the war Billy made some futile efforts at reconciliation. So Franklin's reference a little bit later to "the little bastard" probably is an accurate presentation of his feelings.

"Necessity of Taking Up Arms"
In 1775 the Continental Congress had Thomas Jefferson draft a statement as to why the British Colonies were taking up arms against the mother country. Jefferson's draft was considered too inflammatory, so John Dickinson was enlisted to tone the language down. The passage Adams quotes here does not appear in the final draft, so possibly it was one of the passages deemed too inflammatory.

"When heaven calls to me..."
Martha Jefferson was to die from complications surrounding childbirth a mere six years after the events depicted here.

"...what is a man profited, if he shall gain Mary-land and lose the entire South?"
Matthew 16:26: "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

"I founded the first anti-slavery society on this continent!"
It's true that Franklin did help to found such a group, but he did so after the creation of the Declaration, so this reference is an anachronism.

Monday, June 4, 2007

"Mr Thomson - is the Declaration of Independence Ready to be Signed?"

Hancock: Is the Declaration of Independence ready to be signed?

Thomson: It is

Hancock: Then I suggest we do so.

But did they? Actually, No.

The handwritten copy of the Declaration was sent a few blocks away to the printing shop of John Dunlap. That night he made an estimated 200-500 copies of the document known as broadsides. It was "signed" by John Hancock and Charles Thompson. Their names are at the bottom in printed not signature form. The document was not actually signed on July 4. On July 5, 1776 copies were distributed to members of Congress to be "published" in their own states. It was not until July 15 that the document actually read "the unanimous Declaration of the 13 States of America." On July 19 Congress ordered that the document be engrossed (handwritten in fair script on parchment) by Timothy Matlack the assistant secretary, to Charles Thomson, of the Congress. The broadside with only Hancock and Thomson's names attached was sent to King George later that year. It was not until 1777 that the names of all the signers were added to the Declaration.

Most of Congress signed the document on August 2, 1776. A second printing was commissioned and completed by Mary Katharine Goddard on January 18, 1777. For the first time all signers were listed. In 1823 William Stone made an engraving of the document using a wet ink transfer process. The document was moistened and the wet ink was transferred to a copper plate and then painstakingly etched. It is the copies of the Stone engraving that are used today. Sadly, however, that compromised the quality of the original and through time, travel, sunlight, and the wet ink process the original document disintegrated and no longer exists.

25 known broadside copies exist today. Most of them are in museums or universities; 2 are in the UK. The one closest to home is at Indiana University at Bloomington (do I hear road trip?) and 1 is owned by Norman Lear of "All in the Family" fame. 1 unsigned copy sold for $8.14 million in NY in 2000. It was found concealed behind the backing of a painting bought at a flea market for $4!