Revolutionary War

Loammi Baldwin and his Famous Pecker Apple

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By Ken Zurski

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Loammi Baldwin

In historical reference, Loammi Baldwin should be a name we remember.

For starters, he was a colonel in the Revolutionary War. He bravely commanded several regiments during the battles of Concord and Lexington and accompanied General George Washington when the future president famously crossed the Delaware River to surprise the Hessian’s in Trenton, New Jersey. That distinction alone should be honorable enough for someone who lived in America in the late 18th century.

But that’s not all.

Baldwin was also a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences who like Benjamin Franklin conducted experiments in electricity. He was elected to the Massachusetts General Assembly and as an engineer was instrumental in pioneering a waterway that connected Boston Harbor to the Merrimac River, known as the Middlesex Canal.

Yes, Col. Baldwin is certainly a man who held many distinguished titles. For some, he is even considered to be the Father of Civil Engineering. Let that one sink in.

But today he is best remembered – or unremembered, if you will – for one thing: an apple.

Let’s backtrack a bit.

While building the Middlesex Canal, Baldwin visited the farm of a man named William Butters. It was on a recommendation from a friend that Butters had grown the sweetest apple in all of New England. Butters told Baldwin that the tree was frequented by woodpeckers who in addition to the apples would eat tree grubs and other damaging insects. Butters called the apple a “Woodpecker” after the bird, or “Pecker” for short. Others had dubbed it “Butters Apple.”

Baldwin was so impressed he planted a row of Pecker Apple trees near his plantation home in Woburn, Massachusetts.”The tree was a seedling,” a historian wrote  of Baldwin’s interest,  “but the apple had so fine a flavor that he returned at another season to cut some scions, and these being grafted into his own trees, produced an abundant crop.”

VACA1After Baldwin’s death in 1807, the Pecker was officially named in his honor and the Baldwin Apple quickly became the most popular fruit in New England. It’s easy to see why. The Baldwin was smaller than most red apples are today, but its skin was mostly free of blights. Farmers loved the Baldwin because they could harvest large crops and transport them readily with little or no deterioration. The Baldwin’s were also a good apple to make into a rich, sweet cider. The hard texture was perfect for making pies. “What the Concord is to the grapes, what the Bartlett has been among pears, the Baldwin is among apples,” the New England Farmer described in 1885.

Unfortunately, the Baldwin’s dominance wouldn’t last. Too many severe winters took its toll.

In fact, in one particularly harsh year, 1934, nearly two-thirds of all apple trees in the northeast were destroyed. The next year the state of Maine helped growers replenish their decimated orchards. But only Macintosh and Red Delicious seeds were offered. The Baldwins were just too delicate to replant in large numbers. Still some farmers grew small crops of the Baldwins to maintain the rich cider.

Ironically, Loammi Baldwin, besides the name, has another connection to apple folklore.

He is the second cousin of Johnny Chapman, another Massachusetts man and traveling missionary whose work included the planting of apple trees throughout the expanding frontier.

We know him today as Johnny Appleseed.

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Johnny Chapman aka “Johnny Appleseed”

 

 

 

The Days Following July 4, 1776 Weren’t So Celebratory

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By Ken Zurski

On July 8 1776,  four days after the Continental Congress passed the Declaration of Independence, a copy was sent to General George Washington who was preparing for battle in New York City.

Washington anxiously awaited word from the assembly in Philadelphia. He knew how important the declaration would be to his troops. Up to that point the New York contingent of the Continental Army, who had been together for nearly a full year, hadn’t fired a single shot yet. They were frustrated, antsy and for the most part continually drunk. The declaration would help boost morale, Washington thought.

Already, talk of such a declaration had been stirring up emotions within the ranks. In May of that year, in words later shaped by Thomas Jefferson, Virginian George Mason drew up a sentence about being “born equally” with “inherent natural rights.” And on June 7, Virginian Richard Henry Lee, introduced a congressional resolution declaring that the United Colonies “ought to be free and independent states.” Even Washington , in the spring of 1776, crafted a statement that supported the idea of independence as an incentive to fight. “My countrymen, I know, from their form of government and steady attachment therefore to royalty, will come reluctantly into the idea of independency,” he wrote.

 

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So on July 9, at six o clock in evening, Washington ordered his troops to gather. He had previewed the contents of the document and included it in his “General’s Orders,” which would be read aloud to the men.

But it came with a caveat. Washington had warned the troops of the consequences that any official documentation of independence would mean if defeated. Treason, he implored, was something the British ruler did not take lightly. Traitors in the past were subject to gruesome disemboweling and beheadings, he explained. Washington himself knew if captured, he would be hanged.

This was literally a fight to the end, he argued.

The men stood with anticipation as the “General’s Orders” were read. Patiently they waited as several paragraphs of typical military reports and directives were announced. One included the procurement of a chaplain assigned to each regiment. “The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger,” the missive proclaimed.

Then finally…

“…The Honorable the Continental Congress impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the connection which subsisted between the Country, and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies of America, free and independent STATES.”

Upon hearing the words, the men let up “three huzzas” a witness reported. In fact, their enthusiasm led to an act of debauchery that irked Washington. The soldiers marched down Broadway Street and proceeded to topple the large statue of King George III, decapitating it in the process.

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Washington was livid. He told the troops that while their “high spirits” was commendable, their behavior was not. The general wanted an army of orderly respectful men, not savages. Even defacing the likeness of the British King was inadmissible in his eyes.

However sanctimonious that may have sounded, Washington must have been pleased that the statue’s 4 ,000 pounds of gilded lead was melted down to make nearly 43-thousand musket bullets.

Washington was also thrilled by his troop’s eagerness to fight. “They [the British] will have to wade through much blood and slaughter before they can carry out any part of our works,” he wrote about the impending conflict.

Then on July 12, several British ships, including the forty-gun Phoenix, cut through a thin American defense and blasted the city. It was a show of force meant to rattle the colonists into submissiveness. It certainly rattled the nerves of Washington’s untested soldiers who were shaken and distressed by the cries of women and children fleeing the blasts. There was little resistance.

Washington later expressed his disappointment. “A weak curiosity at such a time makes a man look mean and contemptible,” he said chastising the troops.

After the embarrassment, British commander William Howe offered Washington clemency for the rebels if the General surrendered. Washington flatly refused.

The following month, it would get worse. Due to more defeats, the rebels were forced to flee New York to Pennsylvania and reorganize.  Later that year, in December, Washington would famously cross the icy Delaware River for a surprise attack in Trenton, New Jersey.

The Revolutionary War would continue for another seven years.

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A Worthy Salute to an Obscure 19th Century Painting

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By Ken Zurski

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In 1833, an Irish-born English artist named William Collins exhibited an oil on wood painting he appropriately titled, Rustic Civility. In the colorful image, three children are seen near a wooden gate that blocks the path of a dirt road. Collins shows the gate has been opened, presumably by the children.  A boy is propped up against the open gate securing it’s place. Another smaller child cowers by the boy’s side. Yet another looks straight ahead from behind the gate.

But why and for whom did the children open the gate?

Well, that’s just a part of the painting’s mystique or as one art connoisseur wisely describes, “its puzzle.”

Upon closer inspection, however, the “puzzle” appears to be solved.

Most obvious is the shadow near the children’s feet. It is a partial outline of a horse and upon its back a rider in a brimmed hat.  The children have opened the gate to make it easier for the rider, probably a stranger to them, to pass.

“People are amused at having to find out what is coming through the gate, which few do, till the shadow on the ground is pointed out to them,” the sixth Duke of Devonshire noted after buying the curious painting for his collection.

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The work in some circles has been wrongly classified as a children’s picture. True, Collins would specialize in putting children in his paintings, but they were not specifically made for children. “Rustic” was part of his repertoire and a theme for several paintings including Rustic Hospitality, where friendly villagers welcome a wayward traveler who has stopped to rest near their cottage.

Today, most of Collins works are in London museums. His representations of English countryside charm in the early 19th century were very popular. Rustic Civility, however, seems to be remembered for a more significant and historical reasons. The young boy in the painting is holding his hand to his head in a gesture that closely resembles what we know today as a military salute.

A gesture not yet so easily defined at the time.

According to various sources, the origins of the hand salute goes back to medieval times when knights would salute one another by tipping their hats. Since their heads were covered with heavy and cumbersome armor, oftentimes they would just raise the visor in recognition.

In the Revolutionary War, British soldiers would remove or raise their hats in the presence of a ranking officer, an easy task since head gear at the time was used as decoration only and made of lighter material.

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In subsequent wars, when soldier’s helmets became more protective the act of actually removing the head gear was too risky. A simple hand raise to the brow would suffice.

By the 20th century and during the two World Wars, saluting became more streamlined and distinctive, with the hands either palm out (the European version) or palm flat and down, the American preference.

Regardless of its history, Collins  is credited at least with featuring a salute, albeit slyly, in his painting Rustic Civility. The boy appears to be “tugging his forelock,” an old-worldly expression of high regard and a gesture that suggests an early incarnation of the modern day hand to forehead signal.

This inclination of course is a matter of opinion. Perhaps, as others might suggest, the boy is just shading his eyes. After all, the location of the shadowed horse and rider puts the perspective of the sun’s light directly in the boy’s path.  However, in close up, it does appear as though the boy is grabbing a lock of hair.

This clearly supports the salute theory.

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Unfortunately, by the time any serious debate was raised, Collins, the artist, was dead.

So in historical context, let’s give the painter his due: To open a wooden gate while on horseback is a difficult thing to do. The children helped the man by opening the gate. The boy then saluted in deference – or civility as the title suggests. 

A sign of a respect for an elder in need, Collins likely implied.

And respect is what the “salute” stands for today.

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