Saturday, August 27, 2005

Chief Tecumseh, Panther in the Sky

by: BonnieBlueFlag


It was late Winter in the year of 1768 when Puckenshinwa, a Shawnee Chief, was traveling with his immediate family, Metheotashe, his wife who was about to deliver his child, his 12 year old son, Cheeseekau, his 10 year old daughter, Tecumapease, along with his extended family, and the other members of his clan known as the Kispokotha.

It was time for all the clans that made up the Shawnee tribe, to gather together in Chillicothe. Chillicothe is a Shawnee word meaning town, so there were many places named Chillicothe. They would talk about what they should do, concerning the white men who were crossing over the Cumberland Mountains, and moving further and further west into Indian lands.

They had almost reached their destination when Metheotashe could go no farther, as her baby would be born this night. Chief Puckenshinwa had sent most of his clan ahead, to tell the other chiefs that they would arrive as soon as they were able to travel.

While the women busied themselves with caring for Metheotashe, Puckenshinwa was left to watch the stars until the baby would be born. He thought about tomorrow's meeting with the other chiefs, and what he would say about the treaties that had been signed and ignored by the white man. He had begun to believe that there could be no peace in the future for his people and the white men.

As he slowly looked up at the stars, deep in his own thoughts, he was surprised to see a ball of white fire streak across the sky. After the shooting star had disappeared, he thought of the stories told by the tribal elders, of the spirit that moves across the sky to the horizon, it was the spirit known as "The Panther."

In a little while he would hear the first cry of his new son. He had already been given a sign, and his son would be named Tecumseh, for The Panther that he had seen crossing the sky.

Tecumseh had been born near Mad River, in what would later be known as Clark County, Ohio. He would grow up with many siblings including another brother who was adopted into their family, Lalawethika. Lalawethika would later take the name of Tenskwatawa, and become known as the Prophet.

Now it was told that Tecumseh's mother, Metheotashe, meaning turtle laying eggs, had a special gift enabling her to see beyond the present, and this gift was passed on to several of her children. In the years to come it would seem that Tecumseh had inherited his mother's gift.

The Great Chief Tecumseh's story about his place in American history will be continued . . .

The exact date of Tecumseh's birth does not seem to be known. I found several differing estimates, but with the mention of the shooting star, or a comet as some insist, on the night of his birth, I thought I might be able to find a recorded history of a comet in the year of 1768. I had been reminded of Samuel Clemmons a.k.a. Mark Twain. On the night that Mark Twain was born, November 30, 1835, Hailey's comet had passed overhead. A special birthday indeed, but it would become especially notable 75 years later, when on the night of his death, Hailey's comet made its next appearance in the sky.

Records show that a comet was seen in August and September of 1769, and the previous recorded comet appeared in April of 1766, making it unlikely that a comet was seen the night of Tecumseh's birth. So it is much more likely that Puckenshinwa did indeed see a shooting star or meteor that night.


In the course of learning about the life of Tecumseh, I encountered various dates and spellings for the same people, places, and events, so I have tried to find multiple sources for everything, in an effort to be as accurate as possible. However, if you feel that I have stated anything incorrectly, please let me know.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Bonnie Blue Flag

When I began this page, I always intended to go back and give an explanation of the Bonnie Blue Flag, but before I knew it, the War of 1812 was underway. Today's post is about a very interesting little known fact. There was once an independent country named "West Florida" within our current U.S. borders. So if you will click here I will tell you the story of West Florida and the Bonnie Blue Flag.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Fifteen Stars and Fifteen Stripes

by: BonnieBlueFlag

Before we leave Fort McHenry, here are just a few more things of interest about the American flag that became the "Star Spangled Banner."

Major George Armistead had wanted it large enough for the British to see from a great distance, and so it was at 30 by 42 feet. Four hundred yards of wool and cotton were used to cut 15 stars that measured 2 feet from point to point, 8 red stripes and 7 white stripes, that were each 2 feet wide. This was the only U.S. flag ever to have 15 stripes. The third Flag Act of April 4, 1818, would reduce the number of stripes back to the original 13, and provide one star for each state.

Today the U.S. flag flown over Army installations is a standard size of only 20 by 38 feet.

In today's vernacular, you could almost say that the Major wanted his flag to wave 90 feet high in the sky, while he would be standing below, singing, humming, or whistling, "Naner, naner, naner." Major Armistead obviously was making no effort to hide, or to be overlooked by the British.

The flag was completed in August for a cost of $405.90, and delivered just a few weeks before the Battle of Baltimore on September 13, 1814. However, even though the British could see the brand new flag very well from their ships, as they sailed into Baltimore Harbor; they were unable to get as close to Fort McHenry as they had calculated in their battle plans, because the Americans had sunk dozens of smaller boats in the bay.

At about 7 a.m. on the morning of the 13th, the British began firing on Fort McHenry. The bombardment would last for 25 hours, until well after dawn of the next morning.

During the night, the British had also tried to attack the fort on land, but that assault failed as well. Having been unsuccessful in their attempt to capture Fort McHenry either by land or sea, the officers of both the British Army and Navy, decided to cut their losses and made their retreat on the 14th.

Sometime after the end of the War of 1812, the flag was taken down for the last time. It remained in the custody of the Armistead family until 1912, when the Major's grandson donated it to the Smithsonian.

The threadbare appearance of the famous flag in a history book somewhere along the way, and then in person a few years ago, left me believing that the flag had been ravaged by the British bombs and firearms during the battle, and that it had deteriorated further with age. The ragged edges of the flag now measure 30 by 34 feet, with only 14 of the original 15 stars remaining.

However, for the one hundred years that the flag remained with the Armistead family, they received innumerable requests for pieces of the flag as relics, and momentos, and they were cut away until over two hundred square feet had been given away as gifts. The family tried to limit the gifts to veterans, government officials and other special honors.

Those who received these gifts, took great care of the small bits of cloth by framing them, and displaying their cherished pieces of history in their homes. Many of the pieces have gone to museums around the country, and 13 pieces have even been donated to the Smithsonian.

The flag will be 191 years old this month, and is in a very fragile state now. The Smithsonian is doing its very best to preserve its most prized exhibit, and its most popular American artifact.

By the way, if you are wondering as I did, what that stray mark is on the third white stripe from the bottom? It is the letter "A." Sometime before reaching the Smithsonian, the letter A had been sewn on, presumably for the name Armistead. The name of the man who gave America its most treasured symbol, the first "Star Spangled Banner."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Fast Forward to Fort McHenry Today

By: BonieBlueFlag

Fort McHenry, was completed in 1805 and named for James McHenry, a Scots-Irish immigrant, who was Secretary of War under President Washington.

The Battle of Baltimore in September of 1814, would be the last time that Fort McHenry was fired upon by a foreign enemy.

In 1861 when Lincoln called for Union troops to respond to the attack on Fort Sumter, soldiers from the state of Massachusetts marched into Baltimore, Maryland. The Yankees were met by an angry mob of southern sympathizers, who intended to defend their right to secede from the Union.

Yankees on southern soil so enraged, James Randall, a Maryland native, that in defiance he penned a nine stanza poem entitled "Maryland, My Maryland." Which became a battle song for the Confederate Army, and in 1939 the state song of Maryland.

Maryland, My Maryland
by James Ryder Randall

The despot's heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Hark to an exiled son's appeal,
My mother State! to thee I kneel,
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird they beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland! My Maryland!

State Song of Maryland

Lincoln knew the importance of Fort McHenry, and in May of 1861 began imprisoning the legislators of Maryland, before they could vote to secede from the Union. The fort became a Union prisoner of war camp, where eventually 2,000 Maryland civilians were held along with the captured Confederate soldiers. The Maryland prisoners of war included many prominent citizens, the mayor of Baltimore, a former governor, state congressmen, and even the grandson of Francis Scott Key.

Fort McHenry became known in the South as the American Bastille.

Note the two story barracks buildings, especially the windows, because . . .

. . . if you look closely at the window in this picture, you may see the ghost of a former soldier there.

For a larger picture, and the story of how it was taken, please go to: Ghostly Places

Following the 1812 Battle of Baltimore, the fort remained an active military post for another 100 years. Fort McHenry became a National Park in 1925, and in 1939, it was rededicated as a U.S. National Monument and a Historic Shrine.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Flag at Fort McHenry

Old Glory Shop

by: BonnieBlueFlag

The American Revolution ended in 1783, but the English did not leave the United States, and they continued to back the Native Americans in skirmishes on the frontier.

Between 1792-1802, the French Revolution, and 1803-15, the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain and France were in a struggle for domination. Eventually, Great Britain retained control of the seas, while France gained more and more control over Europe.

Beginning in 1807, the English demanded that all goods being shipped from neutral United States must come through Great Britain, causing the French to accuse them of imposing a blockade. Meanwhile the rights of the neutral Unites States were being violated.

Furthermore, Great Britain believed that they had the right to stop and board any American merchant ships that they encountered on the high seas, plus the right to remove any British seaman they found. In the performance of these so called rights, the English also frequently kidnapped American seamen, who were then pressed into service on the British ships.

The continued conflict between France and Great Britain was causing an economic hardship for the Americans, and when several lawful embargoes failed to solve the problems with the British, the United States Congress declared war on England on June 18, 1812.

Major George Armistead, of English and Irish descent was born in Caroline County, Virginia, in 1780. He was 33 years of age and a veteran of numerous campaigns when he took command of Fort McHenry, in Baltimore Harbor, Maryland. Almost immediately after the Major arrived at Fort McHenry in June of 1813, he placed an order with local flagmaker, Mary Pickersgill.

Major Armistead wanted a flag large enough for the British to be able to see at a good distance. It was to be 30 by 42 feet, and as of the Second Flag Act of January 1794, it would have 15 stars and 15 stripes. Kentucky and Vermont had been admitted to the Union of the original 13 colonial states.

This was the flag of the United States of America, that would inspire Francis Scott Key to write the "Star Spangled Banner," on the morning of September 14, 1814.

The Third Flag Act of April 4, 1818 would restore the number of stripes to the original 13, with a star to be added for each new state on the 4th of July following its admission to the Union. By July 4, 1818, there were 20 states altogether to be represented by 20 stars on the new flag.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

George Washington Saved By A Dolley

by: BonnieBlueFlag

Gilbert Stuart portrait of Dolley Madison

In my last post, I only briefly mentioned that the British had already burned Washington, DC, before moving on to Baltimore and Fort McHenry. So I must back up a moment to tell you about First Lady Dolley Madison. The guards stationed at the President's House had already fled the incoming British, but Dolley insisted on waiting for the President's return, before leaving. President Madison was the last Commander in Chief to actually command forces in the field, and he sent word for his wife to leave now, because he would not be able to get into the city.

Thus it fell to Dolley Madison, a couple of friends and one or two loyal servants, to collect and save as many of the young country's treasures as possible. Most notable was the famous full length portrait of George Washington, that we all are so familiar with. It was mounted in a huge heavy frame which was firmly attached to a wall with screws.

In the commotion and in their haste to get out of Washington, the men helping her load the wagons, were not able to get the heavy frame off the wall. In the last moments, Dolley told them to break the frame, and pull the canvas out, which they did. Only then did Dolley and friends finally exit Washington.

In a little while she would meet up with the President, and together at a safe distance they would watch Washington burn.

Dolley had just finished decorating the President's House, and she and her husband would oversee the rebuilding of the new one, but they would never again live there.

Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington

Now that would be the end of the story about saving the portrait, if I had not come across a snide remark on the Internet, about this having been such a beloved "national treasure," that it sold for $20 million in 2002. Impossible, I said to myself, why would this painting ever leave the White House? A portrait of George Washington with the history of being saved by Dolley Madison is priceless!

Well, if you are knowledgeable about American art history, you already know the answer, but, if you aren't, like me you may be confused about this.

One of the most noted and fashionable painters of the day, specializing in portraits, was Gilbert Stuart of Scottish descent, born in Rhode Island on December 3, 1755, he died in 1828.

It seems that Stuart was a little quirky, as true artists are known to be, and he seldom if ever gave the client the original. Thomas Jefferson waited 15 years for a portrait for which he sat. It finally arrived after Jefferson began to make demands. Upon its delivery it was noted that the paint was still wet.

Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington
Commissioned as a gift for the Marquis of Lansdowne

In 1796, Stuart was commissioned to paint a full length portrait of George Washington, as a gift for the Marquis of Lansdowne in England. That painting became known as the "Lansdowne" portrait, and remained in England for over 200 years. It is the Lansdowne painting that recently became available. In the fall of 2000, the British owner was asking for $20 million, or it would be put up for auction world wide.

A $30 million donation to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation in Las Vegas, Nevada, guaranteed that the Lansdowne portrait would forever stay in the U.S. Six million of the donation was spent on a national tour in 8 American cities, so that the people could see this marvelous painting.

The Gilbert Stuart painting that Dolley Madison saved from the fire on the night that Washington city burned in 1814, was an original copy of the Lansdowne. That painting is still on display at the White House in the East Room. It is the only known object to have remained in the White House since 1800.