Monday, August 17, 2015

Full Leaden Jacket

Hi guys. Marathon training isn’t going great, and the job search is over for now, to put it lightly. So to cheer myself up, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite stories from history that we’ve forgotten.

               The Revolutionary War is important to America since it marked our independence and the victory of democratic self-rule in a modern era. But I’ve gone on record ON THIS VERY BLOG (you look it up, ya turkey) as testifying that we tend to overblow its importance across the world. Globally, the French Revolution meant WAY more and had a much larger scope in both boob-heavy paintings and chopped-off heads. But that doesn’t mean the subject isn’t ripe with its own fun turns of fate and cinematic life. I mean, why don’t we have a “hiding from the government” miniseries about the Revolutionary War? About the original Founders after they’ve signed their names to a treasonous document and now are fleeing from town to town and house to house, depending on the loyalty of people to put them up and provide for them? BUT NOOOOOOOO it’s all about Mel Gibson hunting down pretentious Englishmen to avenge Heath Ledger.

               Anyhoozle, this next one would not make a good movie. It would, however, make a FANTASTIC episode of Drunk History, and if you’re listening, people who make that show that might have already devoted a segment, have me on to do this. I’m a real entertaining drunk.

This is the story of a Founding Father named Oliver Wolcott.

Even his portrait says "Pff. British people."
               You may not recognize the name, and that’s aight, as he served no major post after the war, and appears on no money or celebrity dating shows. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Connecticut, America’s foremost state in spelling errors. He attended the Continental Congress that decided for independence and would come to have a pretty amazing contribution.

               Quick reminder- The lead up to the Revolutionary War took a long time. Your unit in school about the war probably starts twenty years earlier, in the 1750s, with the French and Indian War. It’d be like starting the Iraq War unit on a discussion of the, uh, first Iraq War. Your class covered the French and Indian War, which cost a lot and was probably the fault of the colonists, to illustrate why Britain was levying so many taxes, to illustrate why colonists were so mad. Because the unit starts so early, it’s easy to mix up the actual war parts of the Revolutionary War.
               The battle that is usually regarded as starting the Revolutionary War was Lexington and Concord, when the British came to seize American militia arms, also known as “The NRA’s Wet Dream”. That happened in April of 1775, over a year before the Declaration of Independence. There’s war, then the Declaration of Independence, and then more war, and finally an America we don’t really talk about.

               So, soldiers who have been fighting this war for over a year are sitting in a square on some off time. General Washington’s just gotten a copy of the freshly printed Declaration (it hasn’t been fully signed yet, and won’t be for months), and is having people read it aloud to his men. Wolcott, a man who helped write and then signed this Declaration, walks past and hears the crowd getting #turnt. The Declaration tells them that they’re fighting for the future of their independent nation, and they’re pumped up. They go on a rampage, and decide to tear down a nearby statue of King George III on a horse, which, remember, is the enemy king.
               This statue is covered in gold leaf, which is quickly gone, but underneath is a lead molding. Wolcott takes the whole of the statue-


               “Dum dee doo, got unnuva package, ‘ave we? Well, it’s me job as the Royal Package ‘Andler to ‘andle these packages, it is, so I’s gonna open it. ‘Ere we go, it’s from the colonies, it is, probably just unnuva set of- COR BLIMEY IT’S ME KING’S HEAD!”

               Wolcott takes the rest of the leaden core of the statue back to his house, which, holy cow, heavy. He puts his entire family to work in the days before labor laws, melting the statue piece by piece, which would DEFINITELY stink up the neighborhood beyond HOA allowances. He takes the molten lead, and casts it into musket ammunition.
Now, I know you probably are an expert on musket warfare and whatnot, but just for the laypeople, a musket bullet is not that big. You may notice a large difference from a larger-than-life-size statue of a man on a horse, which is quite big indeed. What I’m saying is that a lot of bullets done got made from that statue. They kept tally- 42,088 bullets. They even split it up among which child made the most bullets. It was the middle one, but they probably still didn’t get noticed as much.
This wasn’t a fun family afternoon of competitive ammunition making. This was wartime manufacturing, complete with wartime uses. The bullets were shipped to the nearby Connecticut regiments, and were used in battle. Which battle? Oh, just the Battle of Saratoga. The battle that Americans won decisively, causing an entire British Army to surrender, interesting the French king enough to agree to help to colonies. The battle that is commonly regarded as the major turning point in the war.

Oliver Wolcott helped to win the Revolutionary War with bullets MADE OUT OF AN IMAGE OF THE ENEMY. He took a statue of the enemy and fired it back at the enemy until they surrendered. And then won the war.
"I've heard of King Lear... But King Lead?!"

History is so awesome, you guys.

Credit for introducing me to this story and giving me most if not all of the information about Wolcott is “Signing Their Lives Away” by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnese. It is a book of two-or-three page biographies on each of the (white, mostly rich) men who signed the Declaration of Independence. They also have one on the signers of the Constitution called “Signing Their Rights Away”. You might recognize this section is not in MLA or APA or Chicago and that’s because citation styles are dumb money grabs in order to sell minor style changes for $45 a book. You have enough info to buy these books, or at least find them. Ugh.

Bye ya’ll.

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