Independence Day
by  Janet Brayden


           The air at Lancer rang with excited voices, horses neighing, cattle lowing, children laughing and squealing.  It was Independence Day and everyone was getting ready to head into Green River for the celebration - everyone except Scott Lancer that is.  Scott was in bed with what could have been very serious injuries.

            Two days previously, Scott had fallen from the roof of a storage shed.  It had been a hot day without a cloud in the sky when he first climbed up to start on the job of replacing damaged and missing shingles on the roof.  However, a sudden thunderstorm had arisen complete with strong winds and heavy rain. While attempting to make his way back to the ladder that he had used to climb up to the roof Scott had lost his grip on the rain-slicked shingles and fallen approximately ten feet to the ground.  Even his ever-present leather gloves had been useless as the shingles were much too wet to be gripped on a slant.  It wasn’t just the shingles being wet that had caused the problem – it was the rain itself.  The wind was blowing it so hard into Scott’s face that he had not been able to see where he was going otherwise he might have been able to grab hold of the ladder.

            His father, brother, Jelly and several others were at his side in a matter of seconds.  Murdoch had sent one of the hands into Morro Coyo to see if he could find Sam Jenkins.  The doctor divided his time between the three towns in the area and it was his day for working out of Morro Coyo.  Chances were good that someone would know where to find him.

            Gently they had laid Scott on an improvised stretcher and brought him into the house.  When the doctor finally arrived his diagnosis was that Scott had wrenched his back, twisted his left ankle and sprained his left wrist.  He wouldn’t be going any farther than the sofa in the Great Room for a few days to a week or more.  This news was not well received by anyone.  Scott was frustrated, his father wondered how he’d keep him occupied and Johnny was already feeling lonely without his best friend to work alongside and have a cold beer in town.  Teresa and Maria were already planning what to feed the invalid and how to take care of him to see that he didn’t try something he shouldn’t.  The Lancer men were not noted for being good patients.

            There was a knock on the door to Scott’s room before it opened to his summons.  Johnny sauntered in clad in his usual brown studded pants and a white shirt with red embroidery on it.  In his hands he carried his bolero jacket and his hat with the stampede string on it – the one he’d been wearing when he first came back to his birthplace and home.

            “Hey Scott.  How’re ya feelin’?” he asked the invalid.

            “Sore, Johnny, very sore,” came the reply.

            “Sorry you can’t go into town with us, brother,” the younger man said.  “I know you’ve been lookin’ forward to all the speeches and stuff.”  He hesitated and then said, “Would you mind explainin’ to me about this ‘Independence Day’ business again?  When I was growin’ up in those border towns they celebrated Cinco de Mayo but not Independence Day.”

            “Sure,” Scott said glad of the chance to educate his little brother.  “About a hundred years ago this country still belonged to England – well the East Coast and Pennsylvania anyway.  No Englishmen had come this far west yet.  The King of England, George the third, had some very bad advisors and a bad temper to go with it.  He’d spent a lot of money, sending troops over to defend this land against the French and the Indians that were allied with them so he thought.  The colonists thought otherwise because they’d been defending themselves for years without benefit of a regular army.”

            Scott shifted uncomfortably in his bed grimacing as the muscles in his back protested.  Then he focused on his brother, who by now was sitting on a chair next to the bed so that he wouldn’t jostle Scott.

            “Do you remember how I told you that the French and the English had been arguing and fighting over the land in the Ohio River Valley for years?”  Johnny nodded. “Both countries wanted to make money by trapping the beaver and such that lived in the woods and rivers.  Both claimed the country as their own and the Indians did too.  The French and their Indian friends went on a rampage killing and driving off the English settlers in the area.  They even took hostages and sold them into slavery.  Finally, after several years, Colonel George Washington – he wasn’t a General yet – and others like Dan Morgan, got the French to admit defeat.  The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763.”

            “Now George the Third got to thinking about his empty coffers – like a bank account – and decided that he needed to make some money to refill them.  With the advice of those closest to him he allowed taxes on a lot of things.  First of all, if I remember correctly, it was on molasses and sugar.  That was in 1764.”

            Johnny looked at his brother quizzically, “Why molasses and sugar?”

            “Well because molasses comes from sugar cane and they needed the molasses to make rum.  It’s a little complicated to explain to you about the triangular trade issues and you wouldn’t like it – it involved slavery.”  Scott grimaced at the thought of one of the issues behind the war he’d so recently fought in.

            “Ok, so go on and explain the rest of it.”

            Scott took a deep breath and continued, “The first tax was repealed – the government decided it wasn’t worth the fight.  However they next passed The Stamp Act.”

            “The Stamp Act?”

            “Yes.  All newspapers and legal documents had to have the stamp on them showing that the seller had paid the tax on them. This was passed in 1765 and there was a violent colonial outcry against it.  This tax was higher than the one on sugar and molasses.”

            “I’ll bet those colonists, as you called them, weren’t very happy about that.

“ No, they weren’t. Any more than your peons down in Mexico are happy when their patron is overbearing.   Well the Stamp Act was repealed but The Townshend Acts that included a tax on tea replaced it.  By this time groups calling themselves The Sons of Liberty were forming all over the colonies.  The local farmers and merchants were joining and they were forming militia units – private armies – to manage any problems with Indians or foreign armies.  They’d done it during the Hundred Years War – what we call the French and Indian Wars. 

When Parliament enacted the tax on tea the colonists really got angry.  Some merchants refused to sell tea because they didn’t want to pay the tax.  The outcry over this tax was almost more than the Stamp Act.  Tax collectors were getting nervous and more than one that tried to collect any part of those taxes was tarred and feathered.  On December 16, 1773 the Boston Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Indians and boarded the three ships that were sitting in Boston Harbor loaded with tea.  The owners of the ships, or the captains, as the case may be, couldn’t unload until they were paid for the tea and Governor Hutchinson wouldn’t allow them to leave until it was.  The ship’s captains knew there was trouble in the air but they were powerless to do anything about it.”

            “Why?” Johnny asked.  “I would think the governor would be glad to see those ships leave.”

            “He might have been except that he answered to the king and Parliament – that’s their equivalent of our Congress.”

            “Go on.”  Johnny was finding this story intriguing.

            “Well, I believe it was a Thursday night,” Scott said scratching his head.  “The Patriots – that’s what the colonists called themselves while their political party was called the Whigs – were holding a meeting at Old South Meeting House.”

            “They held a meeting at a church?”  Johnny couldn’t believe his ears.  The priests he knew were very unwilling to allow any kind of political activities in or around their churches.

            “It was like a town hall. Faneuil Hall wasn’t even big enough to hold the crowd that met.  Men were gathered outside waiting to hear what Sam Adams had to say.  His speech was the signal they were waiting for. If he had ended his speech with anything but ‘this meeting can do nothing more for our country’ then they would have disbanded peacefully.  But it didn’t so they went and they broke into the hold of the ships and dumped all of the tea into Boston Harbor.  Then they swept up the mess on the decks, paid their respects to the captain and all and left peacefully. ‘Boston Harbor a teapot tonight’ they had said and so it was.”

            “So is that what started the war?” Johnny asked his brother.

            “Not that alone.  The Boston Massacre had something to do with it and the quartering – forced housing of British soldiers were part of the cause as well.”

            “They had a massacre in Boston?”  Johnny was incredulous.  “I thought you easterners were more civilized than that.”

            “It wasn’t really a massacre, Johnny,” Scott explained patiently.  “Back in March of 1770 the British government had started forcing the citizens of Boston to house British soldiers.  The people didn’t have a choice and they made life miserable for the soldiers.  On the night of March 5 a small group of boys started the problem by throwing snowballs at some soldiers and calling them names like lobsterbacks and such.  They threw rocks too.  The soldiers retaliated and one boy was seriously hurt – in fact I believe one was killed.  The adults got into the act and the soldiers called for reinforcements.  A mob harassed them and somebody yelled ‘fire’.  Nobody knows who but when the smoke cleared five people lay dead in the street including Crispus Attucks – a runaway slave from Natick.”

            “Sounds like a massacre to me,” Johnny said with a scowl.  “Innocent people bein’ shot down in the street like that!”

            “Well that’s what the Bostonians thought.  They pressed charges in court but the only one that was truly punished – and it was mild at that – was the officer in charge.  Believe it or not two patriot leaders, John Adams and Josiah Quincy, defended the men.  They felt that the men were being railroaded.  We both know how that feels.”

            “Yeah, we do,” his brother agreed.  “So if the ‘massacre’ and the ‘tea party’ and those Townshend Acts didn’t cause the war what did?”

            “I’m getting to that,” the blond told him.  “Things settled down for a while after that but hard feelings were simmering just below the surface.  John Hancock and Sam Adams in Massachusetts and Patrick Henry in Virginia were doing a lot of talking trying to incite rebellion.”

            “In Virginia too?”

            “Yes,” Scott replied.  “After the Boston Tea Party the English government gave orders to close Boston Harbor.  No ships could get in and none could get out – unless they were very small and knew how to get around the warships and were familiar with all the little inlets and coves. The Virginians and the Carolinians protested because if the royal government could close down Boston Harbor they were afraid that they wouldn’t stop there – that they’d close down Portsmouth and Charleston and other port cities.  Many men were out of work – sailors and fishermen and feelings ran hot over this.  Idle hands being the devil’s workshop as my nanny used to say.”

            Johnny snorted.  He always got a kick out of his brother having had a woman to watch him all the time and make sure he stayed clean and neat – that he was seen and heard only when he was being trotted out to be displayed before Harlan’s business associates. Johnny, on the other hand, had had a glorious time getting dirty and wet in creeks and mud puddles and occasionally getting scolded by his mama.

            “Do you want to hear this or not?” Scott was slightly disgruntled.

            “Sorry.”  Johnny was, of course, totally unrepentant and his brother knew it.  “So what did finally get the people mad enough to declare war?”

            In April of 1775 word leaked out of Boston that the British regulars – that was what the soldiers were called – were marching out of Boston to arrest John Hancock and Sam Adams as well as to seize the colonists stores of weapons and powder.  Paul Revere, a silversmith who was a member of the Sons of Liberty in Boston, and William Dawes took two different routes and rode out to warn Hancock and Adams and all the towns along the way.  They stopped in every town from Cambridge to Lincoln letting people know that the regulars were on the march.  When they got to Lexington they were able to warn Hancock and Adams, which allowed the two gentlemen to escape before the British arrived.  Somewhere along the way, probably in Lexington – or just outside – Dr. Sam Prescott who was returning from a visit to his girlfriend’s house joined them.  The three men rode together until they got to Lincoln.  Just outside of Lincoln center – near the Hartwell Tavern – some soldiers stopped them.  Revere was arrested.  Dawes lost his horse but escaped on foot.  Sam Prescott, on the other hand, was very familiar with the area seeing as how he was from Concord.  He turned his horse around, rode off the road, jumped a fence and continued on to Concord spreading the alarm as he rode just as he’d started out to do when he met up with Revere and Dawes.”

            That was the night of April 18th.  On the morning of April 19th the regulars arrived in Lexington to find the local militia gathered on the village green.  When ordered to disperse – break it up – the militia just stood there though some may have backed up a few steps.  To this day nobody knows who said what but the order “fire” was heard.  Or maybe somebody was reporting a fire.  When the smoke cleared there were several dead and wounded colonists on the green and the regulars were moving on toward Concord.“

            “In Concord they found the same thing.  The local militia was gathered.  The two groups met up at the Old North Bridge.  The militia was on one side and the British on the other.  Some of the locals tore up some of the planks in the bridge to prevent the British advance.  The fighting started and the British were routed.  The minutemen, as they were called, followed them from Concord back to Lexington shooting at them from behind trees and stone walls.  They had learned their lessons well from the way the Indians fought.  The British were not used to that – in Europe the fighting takes place in big open fields with line after line of soldier from the two armies facing each other until an officer calls for a retreat.”

            “In Lexington the regulars met up with reinforcements and slowly limped their way back to Boston with the minutemen still taking potshots at them.  It was a long time before they got back and they suffered a lot of casualties.”

            “In June they attacked the militia at Breed’s Hill.  The colonial army was short on powder but they stood their ground until they had to retreat when they ran out.  Dr. Joseph Warren was among the fatalities that day.”

            “So is that when they declared themselves independent?”

            “Not just yet.  It took Adams, Hancock and others a while longer to get the Continental Congress to agree to it.  Finally they told young Thomas Jefferson, who would later be our third president, to write out a Declaration of Independence.  It almost didn’t pass.  Mr. Caesar Rodney of Delaware had to ride through the night to get to Philadelphia to vote in favor of it for Delaware.  It would be another eight years before England would finally concede that we had the right to govern ourselves as free and independent states. And then we had to fight another war with them from 1812 to 1815 to keep them from walking all over us.  Some people call the War of 1812 our second war of Independence.”

            “Thanks for the history lesson, brother,” Johnny said as he rose to leave.  “I think everyone’s ready to leave.  Teresa will have a fit if I don’t ride into town with them.  Seems to think that the family ought to stick together today.  How we can do that when you’re stuck here I don’t know.”

            “Don’t worry Johnny,” Scott said.  “Just go and enjoy the reading of the Declaration and the fireworks.  I’ll celebrate my own Independence Day very soon.”

            “When will that be?”

            “The day I can get out of this bed on my own and get back to living a normal life,” Scott declared.

            Johnny grinned at his brother.  “I’ll help you celebrate your ‘Independence Day’ when it finally comes, brother.” 



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